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On its special issue of December 3-7 devoted to the National Day celebrations, the Ventiane Times presents parts dealing with social and economic development from the Book on 25 years of the Lao PDR. Following is part on the country background, its history and people.
The Lao PDR is located in the heart of the Indochinese peninsular, in Southeast Asia, latitude 14 to 23 degrees north and longitude 100 to 108 degrees east.
Laos is a landlocked country. It shares a 505 km border with China to the north, 435 km of border with Cambodia to the south, 2,069 km of border with Vietnam to the east, 1,835 km of border with Thailand to the west, and a 236 km border with Myanmar to the northwest. The country stretches for 1,700 km north to south, with an east-west width of over 500 km at its widest, only 140 km at the narrowest point.
The Lao PDR covers a total of 236,800 square kilometres, three-quarters of which is mountains and plateaux. The country has three distinct regions.
The north is dominated by mountains which average 1,500 metres above sea level. The highest peak is the 2,800 metre Phou Bia in Xieng Khouang province. The Phou Luang (Annamite Chain) stretches from the southeast of the Phouane Plateau down to the Cambodian border. It has three large plateaux: Phouane Plateau in Xieng Khouang province, Nakai Plateau in Khammuan province, and Boloven Plateau in southern Laos, 1,000 m above sea level.
The plains region comprises large and small plains along the Mekong River. The largest of these is the Vientiane Plain, on the lower reaches of the Nam Ngum River. Also significant are the Savannakhet plain, on the lower reaches of the Se Bang Fai and Se Bang Hieng rivers, and the Champassak plain, which is on the Mekong River, stretching between the Thai and Cambodian borders. Blessed with fertile soil, these plains represent one quarter of the total area and are the “granaries” of the country.
The Lao PDR is criss-crossed by many rivers and streams. The Mekong River flows through 1,835 km of the country from north to south. Rivers and streams provide great potential for hydropower development. Over half of the power potential in the lower Mekong Basin is contained within Laos.
*The Nam Ou river flows from Phonsaly to Luang Prabang for 448 km;
*the Nam Ngum runs 354 km from Xieng Khouang to Vientiane province; *the Se Bang Hieng of Savannakhet province is 338 km long;
*the Nam Tha runs from Luang Namtha to Bokeo for 325 km;
*the Nam Sekong runs 320 km from Saravane and Sekong to Attopeu province;
*the Se Bang Fai runs between Khammuane and Savannakhet for 239 km; *Oudomsay province’s Nam Beng covers 215 km;
*the Nam Sedong flows for 192 km between Saravane and Champassak; *the Nam Selanong in Savannakhet runs for 115 km;
*the Nam Kading of Borikhamsay province is 103 km long;
*the Nam Khanh runs for 90 km between Huaphanh and Luang Prabang.
Laos is tropical, and the weather is influenced by monsoons. The weather in the mountains in the north and in the high range of the Annamite Chain bordering Vietnam in the east is semi-tropical. The difference in day and night temperatures is about 10C.
Laos has around 2,300-2,400 hours of sunlight per year. The atmospheric humidity is usually 70-80%, and 75-90% of the precipitation is recorded in the rainy season, May to October. Rainfall in the dry season, November to April, accounts for only10-25%. There is a sharp difference in rainfall between regions. For instance, in the Phou Luang (Annamite Chain), the annual average rainfall is around 300 millimetres. In Xiengkhouang, Luang Prabang and Sayaboury provinces, annual rainfall is 100-150 millimetres; in Vientiane and Savannakhet 150-200 millimetres of rain falls every year.
Laos has an abundance of natural resources. Beneath the earth’s surface, the mineral deposits include tin, iron, coal, zinc, copper, gold, silver, sulphur and sapphires. Although mining is still in its infancy, prospecting surveys show that quantity and density of mineral deposits are quite high. On the surface the country has a wealth of forests, covering 47% of the surface. They comprise a variety of species, with many of high economic value such as Khagnoung, Khamphi, Dou, Eaglewood and Longleng.
The forest regions are also rich in non-timber products such as shellac, benzoin, cardamon, pine resin, rattan and medicinal plants, and there is a wide range of fauna, including elephants, tigers, bears , deer and a newly-discovered species of deer called Saola.
Such wealth represents a great potential for the development of the country, ensuring a brighter future and better living standards for its people./.
The population of the Lao PDR has reached 5,218,000, and is growing at an annual 2.4%. The average population density is 21 per square kilometre, giving Laos the lowest population density in Asia. The highest population density in Laos is in Vientiane municipality, with 149 per square kilometre, while the lowest population density is in Saysomboun Special Zone, at 8 per square kilometre.
The estimated populations of the major provinces are:
598,000 in Vientiane municipality;
766,000 in Savannakhet;
572,000 in Champassak;
416,000 in Luang Prabang;
333,000 in Sayaboury.
About 85% of the population are rural dwellers, and the 1999 census revealed that there were 60,000 more women than men.
Over 70% (2,220,547) are engaged in productive work, and 936,870 are unemployed, a classification which includes students (69.4%), domestic workers (12.6%), the aged (14.6%). There are 576,758 people at work in towns, and 2,580,659 work in the countryside.
An age-group breakdown gives: 0-14 years - 2,251,600; 15-59 years - 2,548,800; 60 years and above - 290,700 people.
The population consists of 49 ethic groups, in four main linguistic families, according to preliminary figures given to a symposium on the names of ethnic groups on August 13-14, 2000.
The Lao-Tai family includes eight groups: Lao, Phouthai, Tai, Lue, Gnouane, Young, Saek, and Thai Neua.
The Mone-Khmer family has 32 ethnic groups, which include Khmu, Pray, Singmou, Khom, Thene, Idou, Bid, Lamed, Samtao, Katang, Makong, Try, Trieng, Ta-oi, Yeh, Brao, Harak, Katou, Oi, Krieng, Yrou, Souai, Gnaheune, Lavy, Kabkae, Khmer, Toum, Ngouane, Meuang, and Kri.
The Tibeto-Burmese family includes seven ethnic groups: Ahka, Singsali, Lahou, Sila, Hayi, Lolo and Hor.
The Hmong-Ioumien category has two main tribes: Hmong and Ioumien (Yao).
These multi-ethnic people of Laos are generally scattered across the country, while each has its own unique traditions, culture and language.
“The history of Laos has dated back through generations who have succeeded in the cause of national construction with the devotion of blood and efforts and the brave and resolute struggle for the defence of their fatherland under the guidance of national heroes of excellent morality.”1
In 1340 AD, King Fa Ngum led an army of 10,000 men in conquests in all directions: to the south, as far as the Khmer border; to the north as far as Sipsong Phanna (Yunnan, southwestern China); to the east to the watershed of the Mekong and Red Rivers; to the northwest as far as Chiang Saen Lanna; and westward to Korat-Dong Phagnaphay. King Fa Ngum established the mighty and glorious Kingdom of Lane Xang in 1353. He introduced Buddhism (Hinayana) into the kingdom, took the sacred Phra Bang Buddha image from the Khmer kingdom and installed it in Swa (now Luang Prabang).
Thao Ounheuane succeeded King Fa Ngum to the throne in 1373. In his 43-year reign, King Ounheuane maintained the territorial integrity of the kingdom which his father had united. After repelling an invasion by Burmese feudalists, King Ounheuane conducted a population census which showed that there were 300,000 Tai-Lao people and 400,000 people of other ethnic groups. The census gave King Ounheuane the new name of King Samsenethai, meaning ‘three hundred thousand Tai people’.
Throughout the sixteenth century, 14 monarchs ruled the Kingdom of Lane Xang. In 1520 AD Prince Phothisarath ascended the throne, following King Visounnarath. Prince Phothisarath was born in 1506 and married a princess of Chiang Mai. In 1548, he made Prince Sayasetthathirath King of Chiang Mai (at that time the Kingdom of Lanna was a sister kingdom to Lane Xang). When, in the same year, King Phothisarath suddenly died, Prince Sayasetthathirath returned to Swa to take the throne of the Kingdom of Lane Xang. Between 1563 and 1565, King Sayasetthathirath moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. In this same year, a Burmese army led by Ba Ying Nong raided Chiang Mai and Vientiane, but were forced to retreat by King Sayasetthathirath. In 1569-1570 the Burmese made another attempt and suffered another reverse, being forced again to retreat. “These were the two victorious struggles (1563 and 1569) under the able command of King Sayasetthathirath, a hero of national salvation against the aggression of the Burmese feudalism, then a strong enemy. There were continued uprisings and struggles of the masses over the last 24 years of the sixteenth century against the yoke of vassalage of Burmese feudalism, including the overthrow of a throne under Burmese vassalage (1579).”2
After the reign of King Sayasetthathirath, the Kingdom of Lane Xang fell into chaos for years before Prince Sourignavongsa assumed the throne in 1637. He reigned for 57 years, during which time the Kingdom of Lane Xang was at peace. The kingdom also began to open up for trade with the rest of the world. Education and literature developed noticeably, and the most outstanding works of poetry and literature of the Kingdom of Lane Xang were created during this period.
The eighteenth century brought the decline of the Lane Xang monarchy. The Kingdom split into three hostile dynasties and was invaded and controlled by Siamese feudalism. However, the Lao people maintained their unity, frequently rebelling against Siamese dominance. The most outstanding movement was the nation-wide campaign led by King Anouvong, a national hero (1827-1828). Though the uprising was quelled, the movement was a significant page in Lao history in the cause of national defence and has ever since been remembered as such.
Between 1828 and 1829 Siam forced 100,000 Lao people to cross the Mekong River and resettle as prisoners of war. The Siamese ransacked and burned 6,000 houses in the capital, stealing valuables from all temples in Vientiane (except Sisaketh Temple). They also took the most sacred Buddha images - the Phra Bang and the Emerald Buddha - from Vientiane.
In 1870 King Ounkham ascended the throne of the Luang Prabang dynasty of the Kingdom of Lane Xang. In the late 19th century, as foreigners expanded their colonies, the country was plunged into darkness. In 1893, Laos (on the east bank of the Mekong River) was captured by the French army.
King Sackarin reigned from 1888 to 1903, and was succeeded by King Srisavangvong.
In the early 20th century, heedless of the subservience of the privileged classes to foreign rule, the Lao people of various ethnic groups rose in waves against French colonialism. Some resistance movements were quite large-scale. Some outstanding examples include:
*the movement of the Lao people in the central region under the guidance of Father Kadouad (1901-1902);
*the 36-year uprising of the people in the south (1901-1937) led by Ong Keo and Ong Kommadam;
*the resistance movement of the Hmong ethnic group in the north led by Chao Fa Padchay (1918-1922);
*the Tai-Lue movement in Sing (now Luang Namtha province) (1914-1918);
*the Red Tai movement in Samneua (1916).
In 1930, the Communist Party of Indochina was established and led by President Ho Chi Minh. “This marked the turning point in the history of the revolutions in the three Indochinese countries. From then onwards, under the leadership of the genuine Marxist-Leninist Party and under the banner of nationalism and democracy, the revolutionary struggle of the Lao people of all ethnic groups entered a new period of sure new qualities.”3
“In 1945, the Red Army of the Soviet Union defeated the German, Italian and Japanese Nazis, forcing them to surrender unconditionally, ending the Second World War. Our Party resolutely led the people’s struggle in co-ordination with the August revolution of the Vietnamese people, seized administrative power from the Japanese fascists and the French colonialists, and declared to the world the independence of Laos on 12 October, 1945.”4
Not long after that, the French colonialists sent their mercenary and henchmen to raid and occupy towns, suppressing the Lao people cruelly, and restoring French control. They pretended to hand over “independence” to Laos in 1949 and formed a puppet army. They tied the three Indochinese countries together under the “French Union of Indochina” ruled over by the Governor General and the Commander of the French Union Army.
On 20 January, 1949, the Lao Issara Unit was set up, which later became the Lao People’s Liberation Army.
On 13 August, 1950, a national Congress of the Lao Resistance Front agreed to set up the Neo Lao Issara (Free Lao Front), laid out a 12-point political programme, and set up a resistance government with Prince Souphanouvong as Prime Minister and Kaysone Phomvihane as Minister of National Defence. The resistance movement of the Lao people developed to a new level.
In 1953, the armed forces of Pathet Lao in collaboration with the Vietnamese volunteer army launched a series of battles, which liberated vast areas of the country: Samneua, Xiengkhouang, Khammouane, Attopeu, Boloven Plateau, … In early 1956, the northernmost Phongsaly province and most of Luang Prabang province were liberated by the patriotic forces. In combination with the victory in Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam), this forced the French imperialists to sign the 1954 Geneva Accord to restore peace in Indochina, and to acknowledge the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The Accord further acknowledged the legitimate position of the Lao revolutionary forces and the status of the provinces of Phongsaly and Samneua as the concentration zone of the Pathet Lao forces.
Not long after the signing of the Geneva Accord, the American imperialists, who had been involved in the Indochina War from the outset., jumped in, kicked the French out, and invaded Laos. The US had forced the French to sign a US-France joint communique in Washington on 29 September, 1954, as a legal basis for direct US assistance. The document also allowed the US to take over from the French in training the Royal Army of the Kingdom of Laos, and the armies of South Vietnam and Cambodia.
It took 20 years of struggle against US imperialism before the Lao people of all ethnic groups could rid themselves of the yoke of foreign domination, abolish backward feudalism, and proudly and gloriously establish a new regime - the regime of Lao people’s democracy on 2nd December 1975.
Kaysone Phomvihane: Laos on the glorious path of the era (Neo Lao Hak Sat [Lao Patriotic Front] Publishing House) December 1974 Kaysone Phomvihane: some main lessons and some basic problems concerning the new directions and tasks of the Lao revolution (the Printing House of the Lao PDR, March 1979)
Kaysone Phomvihane: Ibid
The Laos-Vietnam-Khmer Alliance was established on 11 March, 1951.
The People’s Administrative Power and Democratic Regime
In the forward-marching evolutionary process, state socio-economic control by means of the Constitution and laws has been exercised in all aspects of the Lao society.
Since the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on December 2, 1975, our nation changed from a kingdom to a republic, with a President as head of state. The national legislative power rests in the National Assembly and the people’s assemblies at the provincial and district level. The executive power is vested in the government, and the law is administered by the People’s Court and the People’s Prosecutors. The administrative system works under the principle: “the Party leads and manages and the people are the masters of the nation” with five tiers of administration - central, provincial and municipality, district, tasseng, and Ban (village)
The legislature, based on the people’s democratic regime, consists of representatives of the Lao people of all ethnic groups, who have the right to vote and to be elected member of the legislature. Two general elections for the People’s Supreme Assembly have been held. The People’s Assembly, first legislature, fulfilled its role of rallying national unity and concord among the people of various social strata and ethnic groups, while the second legislature promulgated the Constitution and a number of laws.
After the promulgation of the Constitution on August 15, 1991, the Party’s comprehensive and principled restructuring policy and principles have been used to determine the role, rights and obligations of each organisation. This has helped increase the Party’s leadership role, and improve and strengthen management of the State organisations. To this end, the Lao PDR has improved its administrative regime as follows:
The legislative branch, formerly called the Supreme People’s Assembly, is now called the National Assembly, and the local People’s Assemblies have been eliminated. Representing the rights of the people, from the First to the current Fourth legislature, this legislative body has made a number of important decisions at national level. These include adopting the Constitution and 42 laws. The National Assembly has also elected the Republic’s Presidents and Vice Presidents, elected the Presidents of the People’s Supreme Court, and the Presidents of the People’s Prosecution; approved the nomination and composition of the government; ratified a number of international legal instruments; approved socio-economic development plans and state budgets; and granted Lao nationality to a number of foreigners.
The executive branch, formerly called the Council of Ministers, is now known as the government. It has 13 ministries: Agriculture and Forestry; Trade and Tourism; Communications, Post, Transport and Construction; Education; Finance; Foreign Affairs; Industry and Handicraft; Information and Culture; Interior; Justice; Labour and Social Welfare; National Defence; and Public Health. There are three ministry equivalent committees: the Prime Minister’s Office; the Committee for Planning and Cooperation; and the Bank of the Lao PDR.
The local administration has been reduced to three levels: the provincial and prefecture, the district and the Ban level (the tasseng level has been scrapped). The administration is run by province Governors, and the municipality by a mayor; each district has a chief administrator, and each village a chief. Currently there are 16 provinces, one municipality (Vientiane), and a Special Zone.
The judicial branch has been streamlined and for better functioning. The Bar Association has been created, and sector staff numbers increased considerably, to ensure social justice.
Under the light of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party
In succession of the honourable cause of the Communist Party of Indochina, on 22 March, 1955,the Lao People’s Party was founded. It marked an important milestone and was a decisive turning point in the history of existence and growth of the Lao nation.
From then on, the cause of the revolution in Laos was under the guidance of its own revolutionary party, which gave a new quality to the struggle for national salvation of the Lao people. The Party succeeded and encouraged the national traditions, combining revolutionary theory with the patriotic movement of the ethnic Lao people. Applying a combination of armed and political struggle, and soliciting foreign support, the Party was able to lead a protracted, fierce and difficult struggle through all storms, and seized great victories. The struggle culminated in complete triumph and the abolition of the colonial regime and feudal occupation, and the proclamation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on 2 December 1975. The Lao people of all ethnic groups have become the genuine master of the country enjoying independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Laos has entered a new glorious era of prosperity and social progress.
Entering the new stage of the revolution, the Party has laid out two strategic tasks: national defenceand development. The Party has guided all Lao people in maintaining their traditions of diligence, creativity, and the spirit of independence, self-reliance and self-building, to build and develop Laos in a socialist direction. At the same time, the Party has led the people in three tasks: concentration on building and consolidating the political-administrative grass-roots of the new regime, healing the wounds of the war and bringing material living conditions and morale to normal, and pursuing a foreign policy of peace, friendship and non-alignment.
Despite countless difficulties and fierce complex trials, comprehensive and continuous hostile efforts to subvert and destroy, and the backwardness of the country resulting from decades of severe war damage, under the able guidance of the Party, with the unity and diligence of the Lao people and with great assistance from the friendly international community, the Lao PDR has healed the wounds of the war, restored production, encouraged culture, and brought life gradually back to normal. Basically, the Party has firmly ensured social security and order, and safeguarded national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The administration of the people’s democratic regime has been supplemented from the central to the local level and the grass-roots.
With rapid response, courageous creativity, brilliance, and full responsibility for the guidance of the nation, in the early 1980s the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party initiated a new idea of renovation, proposed in the Central Committee’s seventh session (Second Congress). The concept was improved, clarified, and detailed gradually. At its most important point, the Fourth Congress of the Party in 1986 worked out guidelines for comprehensive renovation, ranging from concept and structure to economic management mechanism, organisational structure, and working methods in conformity with the realities of the country and the era.
Through nearly half a century of guidance, the Party has fulfilled its great political and historic tasks assigned by the nation and people. Noticeably, part of the achievement was contributed by Kaysone Phomvihane, a respected leader of the Lao people. The Lao revolution has seen constant growth. The ranks of Party cadres have grown in quantity and quality, and are a vanguard of the Lao workers and labourers. The number of Party members reported to the Second Congress of the Party, held in Houaphanh province in 1972, was 20,000, which rose to 78,000 as reported to the Sixth Party Congress in March 1986.
In implementing renovation guidelines, the Lao PDR has scored significant basic achievements in many areas. The national economy has grown at a constant rapid rate. Political stability has been strengthened. People have enjoyed marked improvement of living standards. Foreign co-operation has expanded. The role and prestige of Laos has heightened significantly in the international arena. Laos joins the other nations of the world as we enter the 21st century with full confidence in a brilliant future.
Along with its own growth, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party at all times pays attention to mobilisation, education, organisation and guidance of the masses through the Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union, the Lao Women’s Union, the Lao Federation of Trade Unions, and the Lao Front for National Construction. The pursuance of the mass mobilisation affairs informs the people of the Party guidelines and state policies, regulations, and laws. It also strengthens ties between the Party, administration and people, and encourages and unites the masses to put Party guidelines and state regulations and laws into practice.
Over the past 25 years, and especially during the 15 years of the pursuance of the Party’s renovation guideline, the mass organisations have constantly promoted their fine traditions, and made efforts to improving their form and way of functioning to suit the new period. In particular, these organisations have boosted mass movements at the grass-roots by setting up concrete projects, and organising festivals and useful activities. They have participated in forseeing and resolving problems of social evils, and made an active contribution to the national defence, construction and development.
As the organisation which lays the political basis for the people’s administration, the Lao Front for National Construction consolidates the unity of the Lao people of all ethnicities, all social strata, and religions on the basis of the alliance between workers, peasants, scholars, intellectuals, and patriotic people under the guidance of the Party. This has consolidated national unity.
The Lao People’s Revolutionary Youth Union unites young people, and educates and trains them and the young pioneers to follow the courageous traditions, be patriotic, and learn skills to help the nation’s causes. The new generation of Lao youth has made outstanding achievements in sports, culture, and foreign co-operation.
The Lao Women’s Union helps educate and enhance the capacity of self-development for women, and promotes women’s role in society. The union leads in practising gender equity and protecting the interests of women and children.
The Lao Federation of Trade Union educates workers to be good citizens, and helps protect the rights and legitimate interests of working people.
Over the past 25 years, though the Party has fulfilled its honourable political tasks, it still sees that those achievements were steps on the way to achieving goals and ideals set by the Party and state. The country is still called by the UN ‘least developed’. There is still a gap between levels of socio-economic growth of regions and ethnic groups. Meanwhile the global and regional situation is developing in a very complex way. These phenomena bring new opportunities, challenges and trials for national defence and construction. The Party will further implement its principled guidelines of comprehensive renovation, further strengthen and promote the people’s democratic regime, and bring peace, equality and justice to the Lao people./.
Growth of Industry and Handicrafts
The Party and Government have given special attention to industry and handicraft activities, which have developed and laid foundation for the national economic expansion.
During the fourth five-year socio-economic plan (1996-2000), Lao PDR faced special financial difficulties such as abnormal inflation which has severely affected economic growth. However, due to efforts from state and private sectors, in 1999-2000 fiscal year, industry and handicraft sector still managed a growth rate of 8.6% over the previous fiscal year (based on adjusted rates for comparison). Total industrial exports reached US$ 271.9 million in fiscal year 1998-1999, up 7.96% over the previous year. The garment industry led the way, accounting for US$ 80.5 million, up 4.95% over the previous year. Timber products earned US$ 62.27 million (up 1.5%), electricity US$ 57.1 million (up 74.6%); coffee US$ 1.16 million, and handicrafts US$ 3 million.
Industry and handicrafts (mainly electricity) accounted for 92.98% of total state investment. Geology and mining took 3.93% and the processing industry 3.07%.
Foreign and domestic investment declined, however, which was attributed to poor provision of goods and services and the impact of the economic and financial crisis.
The processing industry continued its gradual improvement and extension. The number of small and medium sized factories increased to 108 large, 479 medium and 19,407 small factories.
The industry labour force comprised around 71,000 nationwide, 2% of the population. Most were in small and medium factories in the cities of Vientiane, Khammouane and Champassak.
Only 4% of the nation’s industrial units are classified as large. Most factories are in cities, with 32.32% in the north, 48.58% in the south, and 19.1% in the centre.
A bio-organic fertilizer factory was built in Dong Xiengdy village, Vientiane municipality, but its production is still limited, unlike the Lao Brewery Company, famous for its beer, which raised its annual output from 30 to 60 million litres.
A tile factory was built at Phai Lom village, Vientiane municipality, able to turn out 300 million sheets of tiles a year. Another in Hathdeua village, Keo-oudom district, Vientiane province, has begun production with an annual capacity of one million sheets of tiles.
In the handicrafts area, a feature has been training in weaving and natural dyeing. There have also been festivals such as the Lao Costume Fair (the Handicrafts Promotion Centre, Vientiane municipality), which was to promote Lao handicrafts for the open market. Handicrafts groups were set up to design gold, silver, carvings, silk and cotton cloth, and pottery.
The Theun-Hinboune, Houai Hor, and Nam Leuk hydro-power stations were the country’s main source of income, hugely augmenting hard currency reserves with the export of electricity, to which the Nam Ngum and Xeset stations contributed significantly.
Smaller scale electricity stations included Nalea district (Luang Namtha province); Houai Kasen station (Oudomsay province), Nam Mong station (Nam Bark district, Luang Prabang province) and Nam La station (Tao village, Houaphanh province).
JICA funded installation of solar-power projects on the Nam Ngum reservoir islands and in Borikhamsay province, and has promised more than US$ two million for completion of the project.
Nationwide, in 1995, villages and districts and households that had access to electricity totaled 31.1%, 7.67% and 15% respectively. In 1998, these figures respectively changed to 63.8%, 15.1% and 29%.
There was a great deal of investments in mining. Raw materials were supplied to both domestic and foreign markets. A survey is underway for mining and supply of raw materials for the second cement plant in Vang Vieng district, Vientiane province, which will produce 200,000 tonnes annually. Another cement plant is being built to produce 88,000 tonnes a year in Mahaxay district, Vientiane province.
This year, a total of 1.1 million carats of precious stones have been mined. An urgent issue that needs to be addressed is the uniformity in quality assessment between the mining companies and the Mines Evaluation Committee.
Coal miners dug out 210 tonnes a year, and gypsum mines produced 154 tonnes annually, though the available market range is small. The mines are able to produce more, but distribution has been difficult, especially with a fluctuation in prices.
Over the past 25 years, industry and handicrafts have grown fairly smoothly by an average annual rate of 10.27%. There are still issues to be resolved, however. These include production inefficiency, limits on the capacity of the market to absorb increased production, the use of obsolete technology, and the failure to attract additional domestic and international markets.
Communications, transport, post and construction: spearhead of national economy
The Communications, Transport, Post and Construction (CTPC) sector, like all other sectors, has developed rapidly over the past 25 years, and is the spearhead of national economic development.
The CTPC has been concerned with land routes, and particularly the maintenance of national highway No 13, which carries north-south traffic from the Lao-Chinese border to the Lao-Cambodian border. Highways 6, 7, 8, and 9 have been upgraded to international standards, providing an access to the sea in the East and West of the country. The CTPC has also built numerous bridges both large and small. These include:
*the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane municipality, linking Laos and Thailand;
*the Sedonh Mekong bridge in Champassak province;
*bridges across the Nam Ou, Nam Khan, and Nam Seuang rivers in Luang Prabang province;
*the Nam Theun bridge, in Borikhamsay province;
*the Se Bangfay, Se Banghieng, and Se Bangnouane bridges in Savannakhet province;
*50 more bridges along highway No 13 south.
Many inter and intra-province roads have been built and/or repaired, link provinces to provinces, districts to districts and village to village. They include:
*roads 10 and 20;
*the Xieng Ngeun-Xiengnhabouly road;
*the Sayaboury-Paklai road;
*the Phonedeua-Nanhom road;
*roads in Hinboun district, Khammouane province;
*a road in Park Namnoi at Nhor village, Phongsaly province.
Upgrading of six main roads in Vientiane municipality and a number of roads in the municipality towns of Savannakhet and Khammouane provinces have also been completed.
In addition, the survey of the railway route between Vientiane and Thailand (Nong Khai) and the Vientiane-Vietnam railway route survey along the road No 12, and No 9 have been completed. To date, the length of roads in the country totals 24,000 km, an average annual increase of 11 percent, of which 3,900 km are asphalted roads, an average annual increase of 12 percent.
Aerial filming and mapping of the Mekong River from the north to south (from the border with China to the border with Cambodia) has been carried out, making water navigation safer, and construction of Km-4 port, Houai Xai, and Parklai ports has also been completed.
Vientiane has a new international terminal building at Wattay Airport, and another international terminal has been built at Luang Prabang. Smaller provincial airport sites at Bokeo, Xaynhabouly, Phongsaly, Luang Namtha, and some southern provinces have been completed.
Transport has grown steadily at 45 per cent per year. The state-run goods and passengers transport companies have been transferred to enterprises ones, encouraging the economic sectors to use the goods and passenger services. Improved management of land transport has been introduced, including upgraded border crossing routines. Laos has signed a series of cross-border accords with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the People’s Republic of China, and the Kingdom of Thailand, and has joined the ASEAN border crossing accord. The number of goods vehicles has increased 41.9%0, passenger vehicles are up 8.9%, goods vessels have increased 368.5%, and passenger vessels are up 132%.
Post and telecommunications have been updated to international norms, with improved post office services in all districts and provinces. The Post Office provides a much faster and more efficient service, particularly in telecommunications, ensuring quantity and quality. The telecommunications system has been shifted from analog to digital, using a microwave system through satellite, and an earth satellite station, providing mobile phone and public phone services. Districts and provinces now have access to automatic telephone systems, and foreign long distance calls to 175 countries, with an IDD system able to access 15 countries. A fibre optic network to access six countries is under construction, and internet services have been opened to the general public.
Urban planning has been an important focus for the CTPC over the past 25 years. Sixteen area urban plans for provincial towns and in the special zone have been completed, covering 94% of the country. Urban plans for townships have been completed in 51 areas, covering 40% of the country. Five special economic zones have been classified, with focal development in remote areas, with attention paid to rules of residence design and construction. Many urban development projects have been implemented: The Sihom urban allocation project, the Luang Prabang construction project, an integrated Vientiane municipality development project, and the second urban development project have all been prepared. Projects for waste disposal, urban plan administration, urban environmental management, and architectural heritage registration in Vientiane municipality are also under way.
At present, there are over 250 residence survey, design and construction companies, 12 of which have foreign investment.
The water supply has been improved both in quantity and quality. Completed water supply projects include Thadeua, Ban Keun, and the Chinaimo water supply expansion. The sector has also completed projects in four southern provinces and seven northern provinces. In addition, the water supply construction project in the of Saysomboune Special Zone is nearly complete. All municipalities and a number of districts nationwide have access to running water, and ten water supply projects are almost ready to be implemented in provinces.