There's more to Laos than hydropower projects

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Luang Namtha is blessed with flat lands that are good for rice crops, and that also makes for beatiful sceneries. See more photos.

While a lot of my time in the World Bank Laos office is spent working on Nam Theun 2 (NT2), I am fortunate to get the opportunity time and again to visit other projects. Last week I joined a couple of my colleagues to visit some provinces in northern Laos, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay. We went to see some health, education and road projects that the World Bank is supporting there and it was a very enlightening trip.

One of the things that struck me was how similar some of the issues in some of the villages we visited were to those of villagers in NT2. While not relating to hydropower impacts, livelihood challenges due to slash and burn eradication in villages in Oudomxay, for instance, had a number of similarities. I think some these type of challenges may be development-related more broadly….

In total we spent four days around the two provinces and visited seven districts in total. The scenery was beautiful and our conversations with villagers, district and provincial government staff and with my colleagues were extremely useful and interesting.

The Mon school in Beng district in Oudomxay has 98 students and 3 teachers (pictured). See more photos.

In some of the villages we visited we learned and discussed some of the livelihood challenges being faced regarding slash and burn eradication or having poor quality soils (Laos aims to eradicate slash and burn by 2010 and move towards more sustainable agriculture practices). For instance some of the villagers in Oudomxay are starting to grow corn, in high demand from Thailand, as an alternative to slash and burn. Some Thai investors provide seeds and training to villagers and the villagers grow corn on their land and sell their products to the company. For some villagers thus far it is working well, but some were having a harder time adapting to the new programs and leaving behind slash and burn.

We also heard about the importance of roads, and ensuring these linked to schools and health centers so you didn’t end up with a road leading to nowhere or an unconnected health center. Thankfully at least this isn’t a problem in Nakai.

In village schools, clinics and offices, posters depicting health and sanitary preventions are displayed. See more photos.

Now I’m back in the office and have just sent out all the dissemination materials to update everyone of progress on NT2 (pdf) in the last couple of months. This is part of the WB and ADB’s commitment to report to their Board of Directors and to all stakeholders on project progress. While the report is not overly long (30 pages) for those of you that may not have time to go through all the details, this presentation (pdf) will give you a comprehensive overview of the main issues described in the report. And here’s the press release if anyone’s interested.

Also here’s a new informative look at NT2  (pdf) which the team created and gives an overview of all aspects of the project. Feel free to let us know your thoughts.

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