I. Topography

1. Location

Lao's People Democratic Republic is a land lock country, located in the central of Indochina, between latitude 14-23 degrees north and longitude 100-108 degrees east. The country, sharing borders with China 416 km to the north, Myanmar 130 to the northwest, Thailand 1,730 to the west, Cambodia 490 to the South and Vietnam 1,957 km to the east.


2. Land

Lao PDR has the areas of 236,800 square km, the major part being mountainous and forested. Around 70% of its terrain is mountainous, 46% of total areas covers by forest. The Mekong River flows through 1,865 km of Lao PDR territory and forms the major portion of the border with Thailand (1,835 km). 60% of the water entering this major river system originates in Lao PDR. The three highest "phu" (mountains) are all located in Xiengkhuang province. The highest is Phu Bia (2,820 km), then Phu Xao (2,690 km), and Phu Xamxum with 2,620 km. From the Geographic location, the width of some 40 Km to 50 Km in the Central province is vulnerable to tropical depression and typhoon originating in the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea. Although the Phou Luang mountain range along the Lao - Vietnam border is the natural barrier to protect storm surge phenomenon however heavy rainfall associated with these tropical disturbances frequently caused severe flooding problems in central and southern plains.

There are 3 agro-climatic zones in the country such as:

The Mountainous North is a zone dominated by mountains over 1,000 metres and steep slopes with a moist to dry sub-tropical climate. The zone has an annual rainfall ranging between 1,500 mm and 2,500 mm with a cooler dry season. The soils tend to be weak with generally low fertility because of heavy leaching and high acidic content. They have low water retention capacity and as a result are not well-suited to intensive cultivation practices. Shifting agriculture characterized by "slash and burn" methods with fallow cycle is widely practiced.

The Hilly to Mountainous Regions in the Central and South exhibit elevations from between 500 and 1,000 metres, with some individual peaks over 2,000 metres, but with generally more moderate slops than those found in the north. The area is dominated by the southwest monsoon climate with bring heavy seasonal rainfall averaging annually 2,500 to 3,500 mm. The soils are similar to those in the North except on the localized area of the Bolevens Plateau in the far South which has deep, well-structured and less acidic soils with the ability for good water retention and drainage.

The Alluvial River Plains along the Mekong and its tributaries in the central and southern parts of the country are where more than 50% of the population lives. These include the Vientiane Plain, a narrow plain in Bolikhamsay and Northern Khammouane Provinces, a larger plain of southern Khammouane and much of Savannakhet Provinces, and smaller plains located in the southern provinces of Champassak, Saravan and Attapeu. These are the most productive areas of the country, dominated as they are by a moist tropical climate which brings an annual average rainfall ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 mm.



3. Demographic

Population

Lao PDR has a population of 5,777,180 inhabitants (July 2002 est.) with the annual growth rate 2.5%, birth rate: 36.9/1000 and infant mortality rate is 88.9/1000. The population comprise over 47 different ethnic groups, such as Hmong, Khmer, Yao, A'kha, Ikoh, Lu etc. Each tribe has its own distinctive customs, dialects and costumes and can be classified into three groups such as: 1) Lao Loum (lowlanders) 68% living along the Mekong river and its tributaries; 2) Lao Theung (highland) 22% lives on the slopes and hills with an elevation of less than 1,000 meters; and 3) Lao Soung (upland) including Hmong and the Yao 9% live in the high mountainous areas, ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese 1%. Around 90% of rural population is practicing agriculture. Big numbers of those are using rain water for cultivation. Lao PDR is among the least developed countries in the world. It ranks 143rd of 173 in the Human Development index (HDI) of 2000. Population below poverty line is approximately 40% in 2001 with life expectancy of 53.88 yrs and adult literacy rate is 57%. Estimated GDP per capital is about GDP.



4. Administrative System of Lao PDR

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 organization. This has helped increase the Party's leadership role, and improve and strengthen management of the State organizations. 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 Peoples 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 Ministries, 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 administrative is run by province Governors, and the municipality by a major; each district has a chief administrator, and each village a chief. Currently, there are 16 provinces one municipality (Vientiane), one special Zone, about 142 districts, and more than 11,600 villages. (Source: Embassy of Lao PDR)




II. Weather

1. Climate

The country enjoys a tropical monsoon climate with two distinct seasons - the rainy season from the beginning of May to October and the dry season from November to April. The yearly average temperature is about 26 C, rising to a maximum of 38 C in April and May. In Vientiane, minimum temperatures of 17 C are to be expected in December to January. In mountainous areas, however, temperatures drop to 14 ・15C during the cool months. In cold nights, the temperature easily reaches the freezing point.


2. Rainfall

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. The increasing rainfall in rainy season is also reaction from tropical cyclone and typhoon from the pacific.




III. Overview of Disasters

Flood

Floods have the greatest macro-economic impact on the country and affect a greater number of people. Flood had been large destroyed and damaged to government and people property caused to agricultural sector paddy field and several to other crops, livestock, fishing while serious damage was caused to irrigation and other infrastructure.

During the last 37 years (1966 - 2002), major floods have occurred in Lao PDR with severe exceptional flooding (1966, 1971, 1987, 1995, 1996 and 2000). These years, floods are recalled as ones of the most disastrous and probably the longest and it caused unprecedented water levels in Mekong, inundation of large areas and extensive damage. Agriculture and agricultural infrastructure suffered the worst damage from flood, especially, flash flood (sudden flood) which occurred in the northern part of Laos or in the hilly areas in the central part. The recent examples of the severity of the flood problems in 1995, 1996 and 2000 which left people with damaged rice paddies. As general condition, floods are experienced from August to September in the central and southern provinces of the country, in association with the southwest monsoon. The floods may arise in the northern reaches of the Mekong River but the most significant effects are felt in the downstream parts of the Mekong River and its primary tributaries.



Drought

While the annual rainfall, can be quite variable in different parts of Lao PDR. The localized effect of drought can be even more severe given that many of the country's rural inhabitants already lead a marginal or impoverished existence with virtually no reserves and very few economic options. The location of drought prone areas is also much more difficult to access with fewer road and rough terrain, thus counter with provision of relief. There are several north provinces which are prone to drought conditions. The effects of drought were particularly severe in 1977, 1983 and 1988, although more recently drought also was experiences in both 1993 and 1994 in the north provinces. Deficit in rainfall has particularly serious effected on food availability in the northern areas because agricultural practices and soil conditions in small shifting agriculture plots generally yield staple rice harvests sufficient for only 4-6 months of family's requirement. Drought is slow onset disaster and seriously impacted to agriculture production, population lives and especially create worsen health problem with sequence of epidemics.



Agricultural Pest and Rodent Infestation

Agricultural pestilence, and particularly severe rat infestation, is cited as additional hazard for many subsistence farmers, who ordinarily can expect only very modest yields from their small, subsistence - based plots. Pestilence is an endemic problem particularly in the highland farming areas in the north provinces and in the higher elevations of the central and southern provinces. One consequence of the declining number of fallow years maintained in shifting agricultural systems as direct result of increased land pressures is a degradation of soil quality and moisture retention which forests the growth of weed infestations. This and the increase of pest infestation in the monoculture cropping patterns associated with shifting cultivation, further reduces the expected yields of reduced fallow land.



Epidemics and Public Health Issues

Given the limited extent of primary health facilities in Lao PDR, there are periodic risks of public health epidemics such as outbreaks of cholera in recent years; malaria is endemic throughout the country, except in Vientiane. The HIV/AIDS is receiving increasing attention in the country, with the Lao Red Cross and other NGOs now developing and implementing programs to expand public education and awardees about the disease and the means by which its spread can be minimized.

Access to clean water and waste water treatment are both extremely limited throughout the country. Only provincial towns have urban water supply systems. Health hazards in Lao PDR are considered very much as an issue to be addressed once an outbreak has occurred, rather than as something to be prevented. The Ministry of Public Health has an institute of Epidemiology as well as a Centre for Health Education and Information, but public awareness of preventive health measures is very limited given the dispersed population, budgetary restrictions, and limited outreach capacities.



Fire and Road Accidents

Given the opportunity to speculate on other disaster ・related events, Government officers at both the central level and in the provinces and districts refer first to fire. The perspective at National level tended to focus on fires of some urban or economic consequence. The awareness of fire hazards from the local government viewpoint was stated more directly as occurring regularly in villages with the loss of a couple of bamboo houses being set alight from cooking fires. In all instances of reference, however, fire was seen as an accidental event. While the occurrence of such fires can result in significant localized losses, the resulting needs were seen to be responded to by singular acts of public or official welfare. As such, fire was not considered a major element in either matters of national policy or developmental objectives, but recently fire was quite severe and harmful to Lao people. Beside fire issue, road accidents are also the main problem that usually occur and harmful to people in the town.



Urban, Environmental or Technological Hazards

Commercial or industrial accidents do not yet pose a major threat or potential hazard in Lao PDR, but as the economy develops further and the growth of urban and industrial facilities quickens, associated technological hazards may grow in importance. Rapid construction and growth of urban infrastructure are responding to an expanding economy frequently conditioned by expediency rather safe building practices. The absence of proper building codes and land use regulations which are appropriate to safe practices and the protection of the environment invite the spread of additional hazards to which increasing number of people become exposed.

In urban areas there has been growing concern about the risk of industrial pollution, particularly to water resources, in the absence of pollution standards for industry and mining ventures. Ground water contamination due to inadequate or non-existent waste water treatment also had been noted in Vientiane and other provincial towns. Inadequate storm water drainage in these same towns has compounded the contamination of ground water reserves by effluent. Drains clogged with garbage are another example of how simple inattention can increase a potential risk for local flooding.



Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)

A unique, but quite important hazard experienced in Lao PDR is widespread contamination by unexploded battlefield ordnance, including the residue of millions of still-lethal anti-personnel cluster bombs.

The problem of UXO contamination in Lao PDR has only recently received international attention in connection with increased international awareness of the devastating humanitarian and developmental effect of landmines and other forms of unexploded ordnance.

Lao PDR, UXO is a legacy of the Indochina war in the 1960's and early 1970's. UXO continues to maim and kill innocent civilians, including children as well as farmers working their fields. With as much as one-half of the country's total land mass subject to UXO contamination, significant amounts of otherwise productive land can not be cultivated, further contributing to problems of food insecurity and poverty. The Lao Government, with assistance from UNDP and UNICEF, established as UXO Trust Fund in August 1995 and subsequently established a national directed UXO awareness and clearance program. The activities of public awareness and clearance are under way in the provinces affected by UXO.




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