Laos Domestic Issues

Deforestation in the north of Laos

Deforestation

The biodiversity in Laos produces a large number of unique animal and plant species that are threatened with extinction due to the development of the country.

The deforestation threatens the habitat of the species-rich flora and fauna and promotes natural disasters. In the 1960’s, almost two thirds of the country was still covered by forest; this area fell continuously to 47% in 2015.

Illegal logging is becoming more and more of a problem in the 21st century.

In 2011, the London-based NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) published an extensive undercover report “Crossroads – The Illicit Timber Trade between Laos and Vietnam” on illegal logging and processing. The report also shows the involvement of the Vietnamese military. A lack of laws is not the reason for these machinations. Rather, non-compliance or even total ignorance of the laws and the high level of corruption in the country favor the timber trade.

The report cites the development of land in connection with hydropower projects, industrial plants and the award of land concessions as further driving factors for deforestation.

Massive social problems arise when members of ethnic groups are displaced from their land in the course of deforestation. Laws to protect human rights and the environment are largely ignored. There is a lack of international framework structures at all levels to deal with the challenges of land grabbing in the course of deforestation.

Deforestation in the north of Laos

Mining

In addition to income from hydropower projects, the Laotian government is increasingly relying on income from the mining sector.

Large quantities of potash are stored below Vientiane.

According to constructmaterials, the mining sector in Laos is to be developed as part of Technical Cooperation (TC). The overarching goal is to improve the control and supervision of the mining sector, in particular through the establishment of an inspection system, through the support of the state institutions, the population affected by mining, the mining companies and the trade unions and thus to an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable one in the long term Contribute to mining.

Not only environmentalists are warning of environmental pollution and negative social consequences that result from mining. Between 2012 and 2016, the Laotian government imposed a moratorium on the issuing of new licenses and the examination of land use rights, including in the area of mining projects.

UXO – duds

More than 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos between 1965 and 1973. This makes Laos the most heavily bombed country (ammunition per resident) in history.

Of the 270 million bombs dropped, over a third did not explode. Of these duds, ” bombs ” (individual parts of cluster bombs) represent the greatest danger for the rural population. Duds can be found in all provinces of the country.

  • The provinces most affected are mainly in central and southern Laos on the Vietnamese border. Including Xieng Khouang with 12 percent of all fatal accidents, and Savannaketh Province with 25 percent of all fatal accidents.
  • About a quarter of all Laotian villages are affected by duds, including 41 of the 46 poorest districts in Laos
  • Between 1964 and 2008 around 50,000 people were injured or killed by duds – 40 percent of them were children.

Bomb parts are still used in many places as utility items such as boats, flower troughs, fences and for household cooking. So it remains a major challenge, especially children, to make the danger of duds clear. Many children contribute to the family income through the sale of collected metal parts.

Is a mine-free Laos possible in the future?

No, Laos will never be 100 percent mine-free in the future either. There will always be some risk as mine clearing is slow, requires well-trained specialist personnel, and is costly.

So far, only 0.5 percent of all duds in the country have been cleared since 1996. The US is participating in the clearance costs, but has not yet officially recognized its participation in the so-called Secret War in Laos.

The British non-governmental organization Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has had mine clearance programs in Laos since 1994. The national mine clearance program Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) with UN support has existed since 1996. The German organization Solidaritätsdienst International e. V. started a mine clearance program from 2009-2013.

In 2008, 107 countries signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which came into force in 2010. The first meeting of all involved took place in Vientiane that same year.

Between 2008 and 2018, UXO deaths decreased from 302 to 24. In 2019, 25 people were killed by UXO.