What difference do 16.5 kms of rural roads make? An answer from the effect of NT2 revenues in Laos

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The author at one of the roads renovated with NT2 funds (2010 rainy season).

Last week I hopped on one of our office cars and led into the Southern province of Champassack, along with our filming crew, to collect some stories related to the recent roads improvements made out of the NT2 Revenues (386kb pdf). Following the sale of electricity to neighboring Thailand in early March, monies have started to flow into the National Treasury of Laos.

As the reader and follower of NT2 may know, the project offers a Revenue Management Agreement (24.46mb pdf) component which has been designed to strengthen the overall Government of Lao’s Public Financial Management Program. For the specific case of NT2, the Program was implemented via budget classification and monitoring systems, physical progress of expenditures at the sector ministries of the identified eligible programs where the monies are allocated and increased capacities to conduct expenditure audits, among others.

Along with health, education, rural electrification and environment, rural roads—of critical function to connect distant villages to main roads—are one of the five eligible sectors to receive the NT2 revenues allocations for specifics. I then chose one province (Champassack) from the plan provided and visited the districts of Soukhoumma, Champassack and Bachieng to see the selected rural roads maintenance program in action. Whoa! The dividends of NT2 have started to pay off to all Lao people. These are some of the comments received:

Recently renovated road #8930 in Soukhoumma district, Champassack.

"I have been living in this village for 58 years…all my life...and this is the first time I can avoid crossing the Mekong to get to the other side. It is very dangerous to cross the river during the late evening hours. We often have problems with the waves or with the rocky sand bars. The doctor will not come if there is a sick person in our village. We can now access the other side by land. This is also the first time I can see so much progress achieved in such a short period of time."

"We had saved money to buy cars but we couldn’t buy any as we wouldn’t be able to use them. The road was truly impassable." 

"We now grow vegetables not only for our family but to sell in the market, as we can now reach the market at any season and any time of the day."

"Our teens can access the high school just walking or biking."

"For the last 4 years the villagers of Champassack district have asked me (the village head man) to request the Province Government for monies to maintain the road. They had offered themselves as a free labor source to refurbish the road. For 3 consecutive times I had to transmit the sad news that there was no money. Finally this year the road was enhanced. We are very grateful."

I guess testimonies speak by themselves so I won’t offer any additional interpretation. Only that these people—adults, kids, teens and elders—feel safer, more encouraged to progress and  more optimistic and hopeful about their present and immediate future.

A recently maintained road at Champassack district. You can now buy cars and use the road for any needs.

The testimonies made me think about those little things that can help alleviate big burdens. For me and—probably—the rest of the Westerners in and around, the difference between accessing certain basic services and not having them at hand is rather unthinkable. These services are so obvious for us that it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without them. Something similar to life without energy for the refrigerator, the A/C, the many, many, many portable devices we now play with, the internet or simply, the lighting of big cities like my beloved Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, New York, London, Paris, or Sao Paulo.

But people like the villagers in these remote (and not so remote) areas of Laos not only do imagine the differences but can actually witness and enjoy the success.
Suddenly the words of R. W. Emerson came to my mind:

"[…] To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition […] This is to have succeeded."

A road is not the final solution to the many needs of the Lao people. Certainly it is a path to a better life now and then.


Victoria Minoian

Lao PDR and Nam Theun 2 Project

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