Article

COUNTRY


Biophysical attributes

The Lao republic is a land locked country meaning that it is located in a position where it does not have access to the sea, it is located in south east asia and borders china to the north, Cambodia to the south and Vietnam to the east, it is located 17 degrees north and 102 degrees east, it is a large nation with a total area of 236 square kilometers and a population size of 6.5 million according to the 2007 estimates.[1] Further the country depends one agriculture whereby approximately 80% of employment in the economy is based on subsistence farming. Also approximately 70% of the population belong to an ethnic group known as Lao hence the name Lao republic. The nation has 16 provinces and Vientiane is the capital city.[2] 

Terrain

The Lao nation has many rivers and mountains, major rivers include Mekong river which is a major transport resource and the Nam Tha river which our dam under analysis is being constructed, to the south of the country there is also the Dong falls which is a major tourist attraction bringing in foreign income to the country.[3]

The Mekong river demarcates a 235 kilometer border between Lao and Burma while to the north mountainous terrain which is 400 kilometers long borders china, the topography of the Lao nation is therefore mountainous characterized by narrow river valleys and steep terrain and for this reason some of the areas have low agricultural potential. However Vientiane and Xiangkhoang provinces have plains that enable agricultural practices such as growing rise and livestock keeping. However some parts of the country are covered by thick forests however the forest area has declined over the years as a result of logging, expansion of agricultural land and burning of vegetation cover for human development.[4] 

Climate

The Lao country has Tropical monsoon climate, this means that rainy seasons are experienced in May, June, July, august, September and October, a cool dry climate is experienced in the months of November, December, January and February, and finally extremely dry seasons are experienced in the months of march and April. [5]

Despite the climatic condition of the area some areas experience higher rain than others, example in Champasak will experience higher rainfall levels that are over 3,000 millimeters per year while in regions like Savannakhét rainfall levels are low amounting to 1,300 millimeters in a year. For this reason therefore some regions are suitable for rice growing due to the high rainfall level than others which have low rainfall level which do not meet the rainfall levels required by rice to grow.[6]

Temperatures during the hot seasons during the year, high temperatures recorded in the area amount to 40 degrees centigrade and low temperatures recorded amount to 5 degrees centigrade. However the north part of the country will usually experience low temperature levels than the southern regions of the country. 

Resources available

The nation has many natural resource at their disposal, forest terrain helps commercial logging which is a major economic activity in the country, the availability of plains in most provices also allows cultivation of rice in the region which provides food for the population where surplus is exported to other countries. Rivers also serve many purposes such as irrigation, transport and a source of fish.[7]

All these resources help in economic development of the country despite the various disadvantages associated with resource use such as deforestation. Due to the mountainous terrain in most regions this has hindered the development of road networks in these regions, therefore many individuals depend on rivers for transport of their commodities and also tourists.

Other resources include gold and tin deposits in some regions, gemstones are available in some countries and this also help in generating income and employment activities in the country which adds up to economic development and growth. Appropriate terrains for the construction of dams can also be considered as a resource whereby the country is able to generate hydroelectric power in the region.

The available forests also act as a home for wildlife which attracts tourists into the country, forests also provide food to the population, during poor rice production years the population will enter the forests in search for wild food and fruits to meet their basic food requirements, also some tree species are used to produce medicine for the population.

Land use

54% of land in the country is covered by forests and woodlands, however 3% of the land is used for agriculture and 3% for grazing purposes. The remaining 40% is used for residential and development purposes such as towns, residential houses and areas covered by mountains. The area used for irrigation purposes is approximately 1,200 square kilometers[8]

Environmental problems

There are various environmental problems in the Lao region, some of these problems include floods, drought, earthquakes that are experienced in northern regions, soil erosion and deforestation due to commercial logging.

Floods

There are cases of floods in the plains regions where water flow is not efficient during the rainy seasons, also in years when rainfall levels increase rivers flood the area surrounding them and causing health hazards to the population, this flood problem however has been reduced through the construction of dams to regulate water flow in some areas.

Floods are also said to be caused by the increased deforestation in the area, deforestation leads to more flow of water over the surface and also the land do not hold much water therefore leading to flooding in low regions, this is why deforestation in these areas has been a major problem to the whole country.[9]

Drought

In some regions that experience low rainfall per year are faced with draughts in years that rainfall levels fall below average levels, this leads to low production and also lack of basic needs such as food and water, deforestation can also be seen as a cause of the occurrence of these draught whereby deforestation is said to lead to hotter climates and therefore soil do not hold much water and also the water cycle balance is disrupted leading to drought.

This problem can however be resolved through reforestation and a forestation, this will help balance the water cycle system leading to a more cooler climate, there should also be a ban on commercial logging and also cutting down of trees for the purpose of cultivation and development.

Earth quakes

The northern regions experience frequent earthquakes, this is a natural disaster and human beings have little they can do to prevent them from happening, however there is a need to warn the population because it is possible to detect the occurrence of these earthquakes. For this reason therefore the north region should have a station that monitors any ground movements as a way to detect occurrences of these quakes. [10]

Soil erosion

Soil erosion is caused by wind, water, human activity and animals, the high rainfall received in some areas in the region experience high levels of soil erosion and for this reason there is a need to undertake actions to restore vegetation cover and also building of gabions and other soil erosion strategies aimed at minimizing erosion. Erosion will lead to the degradation of soil fertility leading to low land production in these regions.


The Nam Tha dam project

Environmental degradation

The Nam Tha dam project is expected to cover a total area of 64square kilometers, the dam will cost approximately 340 million dollars and the construction will take place over a period of 4 years before completion. It is expected that the construction of the dam will cause harmful effects to the environment in this area, one of the most evident problem is a loss of natural resources such as trees, vegetation cover, loss of bony fish, loss of agricultural land and other problems associated with dam construction.[11]

Land degradation

Due to the large area that the dam will cover land will not be available for agriculture and other activities, the present use of land in the area is agriculture and also for tourism purposes, as a result of displacement of people in the area there will be a loss in agricultural land which will be equal to 64 square kilometers, the land was previously used for growing rice and other vegetables and this project will therefore reduce available resources that could have been used for agriculture.

For this reason the country will experience a reduction in the land available for agricultural land and this will lead to great loss of resources in the area, further the displaced people will be resettled in areas that were previously covered by forests and this will lead to increased deforestation due to human settlements and therefore further degrading the environment.

Loss of trees and vegetation

As a result of flooding on the area as a result of the dam construction t is clear that all the vegetation in the area will be under water, houses and buildings will also be underwater and for this reason the trees in the area not be in a position to survive, as a result there will be an increase in the level of deforestation and also other harmful effects on the environment.

Also due to developments that will be required such as the construction of roads and paths this will lead to the destruction of the environment, there will be increased deforestation and therefore add to the harmful effects of constructing the dam, it is proposed that the dam will have a 40 kilometer long road for the purpose of accessibility to the dam and as a result this will lead to further environmental degradation.[12]

Loss of marine life

The dam construction will cause a harmful effect on the environment, one of the most evident problem that will be caused is the altering of the flow of the river, this will affect the fish population in the river also vegetation, riparian vegetation is the vegetation that grows by the river side and when flooding occurs as a result of the dam construction then the vegetation cover will be lost. Trees and other vegetation cover is also likely to be lost as a result of the project which will cover 64 square kilometers, this is because most of the vegetation cover depend on a certain level of soil moisture and when this increases then the vegetation cover will die out.[13]

People living in the area also depend on the river to provide food, people will get bony fish from the river as a source of food and as a result of flooding the fish will loss proper habitant and therefore their population will reduce, this will lead to a reduction in the natural resources of the area despite the various advantages associated with the construction of the dam.

There is also a problem whereby the plants are not able to disperse seeds and also growth of seedling in case the river is altered, fish do not freely travel upriver or downriver leading to a shortage and disruption of the life cycle of their habitant. For this reason therefore it clear that there will be a huge loss of bio diversity in the area as a result of the dam construction.

Natural formation

The area is an attractive site for tourism and many tourists visit these area to site see and also other culture artifacts that are associated with the area, the dam will result into the destruction of the beautiful views that attract these tourists and as a result a reduction in tourism income, there sites will be covered by water and therefore a loss of a resource that would have in future earned a lot of foreign income. For this reason therefore we can conclude that the construction of dam will result into a great loss of natural resources in the area.


Strategies to reduce the effect

Fish ladders

This involves the construction of ladders that will allows fish to move up river despite the existence of the dam, this should be done by including the fish ladder in the design of the dam and therefore help reduce the problem caused on the fish. This therefore should add to the cost of construction of the dam which should be incurred in order to prevent distortions caused by the project.

Irrigation schemes

The displaced population should also benefit from the construction of the dam, it should not be viewed as a forced displacement but as a developmental project, therefore as a way to protect the needs and income generating activities the government should provide land to the displaced and also there is a need to provide them with the ability to use the dam water for irrigation.[14]

Electrification

Electrification should also be a way to compensate the rural population, this should be aimed at providing electricity services to the displaced population at subsidized prices in order for them to fully benefit from the dam construction.[15]

Job provision

Displaced individuals should take part in the construction of the dam, this will boost their income and therefore benefit them, in most cases laborers who work at these dams are foreign but as a way to show appreciation to the domestic population there is need to provide employment in the construction of the dam.[16]

Compensation

The displaced individuals should also be properly compensated, this include providing them with land and also providing financial support for them to start new life, job opportunities should also be provided to the displaced in order for them to live sustainable lives in their new residential region, the authority therefore should build new hospitals, and schools for the displaced in their relocated area.

Resources

There is also a need to consider the loss of resources such as trees and vegetation cover, in order to compensate for this loss there is a need for the government to undertake a forestation in areas where trees did not exist in the past, this will compensate the loss of resources and therefore lead to more environmental friendly practices in the nation.

References and Footnote
  • Asia Energy (2008) hydroelectric power, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://asianenergy.blogspot.com/2007/10/new-chinese-dam-to-be-built-in-laos-at.html
  • Khamla Tours, (2008)provinces and the Lao republic, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://www.khamla.com/provinces/2/
  • Lao National Tourism Administration (2008) Lao region, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://www.tourismlaos.gov.la/luang-namtha-province.htm
  • Laos Hydro Power Development, (2008) the hygdroelectric power plants in Lao, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://pnomsin.blogspot.com/2008/01/work-to-start-on-nam-tha-1-hydropower.html
  • Wikipedia, (2008) Lao geography, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Laos
_________________
[1] Wikipedia, (2008) Lao geography, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Laos
[2] Wikipedia, (2008) Lao geography, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Laos
[3] Khamla Tours, (2008)provinces and the Lao republic, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://www.khamla.com/provinces/2/
[4] Wikipedia, (2008) Lao geography, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Laos
[5] Khamla Tours, (2008)provinces and the Lao republic, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://www.khamla.com/provinces/2/
[6] Wikipedia, (2008) Lao geography, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Laos
[7] Laos Hydro Power Development, (2008) the hygdroelectric power plants in Lao, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://pnomsin.blogspot.com/2008/01/work-to-start-on-nam-tha-1-hydropower.html
[8] Wikipedia, (2008) Lao geography, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Laos
[9] Asia Energy (2008) hydroelectric power, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://asianenergy.blogspot.com/2007/10/new-chinese-dam-to-be-built-in-laos-at.html
[10] Wikipedia, (2008) Lao geography, retrieved on 30th April, available at, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Laos
[11] Laos Hydro Power Development, (2008) the hygdroelectric power plants in Lao, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://pnomsin.blogspot.com/2008/01/work-to-start-on-nam-tha-1-hydropower.html
[12] Laos Hydro Power Development, (2008) the hygdroelectric power plants in Lao, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://pnomsin.blogspot.com/2008/01/work-to-start-on-nam-tha-1-hydropower.html
[13] Asia Energy (2008) hydroelectric power, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://asianenergy.blogspot.com/2007/10/new-chinese-dam-to-be-built-in-laos-at.html
[14] Asia Energy (2008) hydroelectric power, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://asianenergy.blogspot.com/2007/10/new-chinese-dam-to-be-built-in-laos-at.html
[15] Laos Hydro Power Development, (2008) the hygdroelectric power plants in Lao, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://pnomsin.blogspot.com/2008/01/work-to-start-on-nam-tha-1-hydropower.html
[16] Asia Energy (2008) hydroelectric power, retrieved on 30th April, available at http://asianenergy.blogspot.com/2007/10/new-chinese-dam-to-be-built-in-laos-at.html

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