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For Lao’s Rich Environment, a New and Watchful Eye

June 1, 2007

June 1, 2007—Lao PDR is bringing a watchful eye, backed up by new environmental funding and enforcement, to its rich and diverse but threatened natural resources.

To protect its vast forests and many species of exotic animals, the government has embarked on an ambitious program of environmental monitoring and management with help from the World Bank, other donors, civil society and NGO partners, and private developers.

The newly published “Environment Monitor” describes a series of actions Lao has initiated to manage its resources sustainably. Lao PDR Country Director Ian C. Porter encouraged the Government and civil society to implement these actions to ensure the country “beats the resource curse.”

“We are at a crucial point,”  Porter said in a speech in Vientiane, the capital.  “As it develops, Lao PDR [People’s Democratic Republic] has the opportunity to use its natural resources to spur economic growth in a sustainable way, ensuring environmental and social impacts are well managed, and the appropriate government systems are put in place to transparently and accountably manage resources so that the benefits are experienced for generations to come.  I believe the government and the development community are strongly committed to making sure this happens.”

The “Environment Monitor” is “the first comprehensive document that looks at the challenges,”  Patchamuthu Illangovan, the Bank’s Lao PDR Country Manager, said.  “It provides general direction on how the country should proceed and actions to be taken.”

Overall success will mean not only protecting Lao’s natural resources, but recognizing that environmental protection is of “critical importance in poverty alleviation and growth,” according to the report outlining the program.  Lao ranks 143rd among 175 countries in human development and is one of the poorest in the East Asia region.

To escape “resource curse,” in which countries with plentiful natural resources nevertheless suffer from slow growth and poverty, the new environmental program drills down from the national level into provinces, districts, and localities, including some where villagers are trained in wildlife census-taking.

The program includes an array of proposed laws and policies that will, if enacted, give force to existing legislation that is often riddled with inconsistencies. Those inconsistencies, the report says, stymie attainment of crucial environmental objectives.

Another big problem the report cites is “quite limited” management staff that is “insufficient to carry out their mandate.” Often referred to as “lack of capacity,” it is not an uncommon problem in the country.    

The report notes that although the government's overall funding for environmental programs nearly doubled between 2006 and 2005 – from US$60,000 to US$100,000 – “government financial support remains very low, and insufficient to address environmental management needs.”

The World Bank and other donors helped to close huge funding gaps by contributing US$10 million to protecting Lao’s environment over the past five years.

The Bank also helped establish the Lao Government’s emerging institutional structure for environmental management and develop public awareness of the need for better protection of Lao’s natural resources. The Lao Environment Monitor was produced jointly by the Lao Government and the World Bank.

The private sector has also been enlisted to help.  For example, the developer of a dam for a hydroelectric project is committed to funding environmental management in protected areas within the affected watershed.  The funding is currently US$1 million annually for over 30 years.