Top Story of the Week: Economist: GDP growth yet to trickle down
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China launched joint patrols along the Mekong River together with Thailand, Laos and Myanmar in response to the killing of 13 Chinese sailors on Thailand's portion of the river, a move that underscores the country's security inroads into Southeast Asia.
Statements in recent days from China's Ministry of Public of Security and from state-run media have provided few specifics on how the patrols will be conducted. The ministry hasn't responded to a written request for comment on whether Chinese boats would be allowed to ply the river waters of its neighbors and arrest their citizens.
Laos and China pledged on Monday to deepen military exchanges and cooperation, strengthen unity and friendship between the two countries'militaries and work together to maintain regional peace and stability.
The vows came out of the meeting between the Lao Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of National Defense Douangchay Phichith, Lao Deputy Minister of National Defense Sanyahak Phomvihane and the visiting Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Cai Yingting.
Douangchay said the Lao side appreciates the Chinese side's long-term support and help which have contributed to the Lao social economic development and national defense building. The Lao Party, government and military attach great importance to developing relations with China, and are willing to make joint efforts with the Chinese side to further promote the two states and militaries' ties to a new level.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will provide approximately $465 million to support the construction of a 440-megawatt hydropower plant that will supply power to energy-hungry Thailand and provide much-needed revenue to fund poverty reduction programs in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), said ADB office in Manila, Philippines.
"Earnings from clean energy exports are vital to poverty reduction efforts in landlocked Lao PDR, where one in every three people survive on less than $1.25 a day," said Christopher Thieme, Director in ADB's Private Sector Operations Department.
The new plant is expected to generate upwards of $770 million for Lao PDR, of which more than $200 million is specifically earmarked for poverty reduction and environmental protection programs.
Food & Agriculture
The Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Division of Khammouane held a meeting to assess the implementation of the market-oriented production promotion project since 2003.
Head of Market-Oriented Production Promotion Project, Mr. Nongkhane Sengsoulin said that, the project has been implemented since 2003. It is implemented in two districts of Thakhek and Nongbok. Over 12,860 families in 108 villages reportedly benefit from the project. Objective of the project is to promote farmers to plant rice, cash crops and do animal husbandry, increase yielding production capacity of local people, and their poverty reduction.
Vietnamese Minister of Finance (MOF) Vuong Dinh Hue held talks with his Lao counterpart Phuphet Khamphunvong here on Monday to work on measures aimed at promoting financial cooperation between the two countries.
The two sides informed each other of their respective country's economic and financial situation and exchanged views of further enhancing financial cooperation between the two finance ministries.
Numerous Vietnamese firms were investing in Laos in fields ranging from agro-processing to hydroelectricity, said Ta Minh Chau, Vietnamese Ambassador to Laos.
Chau said investment from Viet Nam had increased rapidly in recent years. He said the total registered capital of Vietnamese businesses in Laos now stood at US$3.7 billion, making it the third largest foreign investor in the country.
Lao delegates are keen to learn more about Australia's credit union movement and how they might be able to apply the same principles in Laos.
(KPL) The Credit Union Foundation Australia, Director Therese Turner and her team at the Quay Credit Union kindly hosted a special visitor to Australia from the Lao government, Dr. Saysomphone Phomvihane, Vice-President of the Lao National Assembly, on Dec 2-6.
Dr. Saysomphone has requested to learn more about how credit unions operate in Australia and gain information to assist Laos in the development of their own credit union industry.
Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are set to increase cooperation in landmine clearance in their border areas, to encourage growth in the Development Triangle Zone.
The Security and Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee of the Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Development Triangle Zone yesterday agreed to highlight the importance of UXO clearance for bringing investment and development projects to the area, at the Ministerial Conference on Development of the Triangle Zone.
The 7th ministerial conference on developing the 13 Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese border provinces, starting today in Attapeu province, is expected to include discussions on UXO removal.
Since 2008, the Poverty Reduction Fund has implemented over 130 projects designed for poverty reduction of people in a northern Louang Namtha.
These projects include 32 in education, 38 in communication infrastructure namely roads and bridges, 45 in health, 16 in agriculture and 16 in vocational training. According to the Poverty Reduction Fund in Louang Namtha, over the past three years communication infrastructure shares the most largest portion of the investment by the PRF (8.1 billion kip), followed by education (6.8 billion kip), and health (5 billion kip) while agriculture and vocational training see only 1.5 billion kip and 1.4 billion kip invested, respectively.
Laos has achieved remarkable GDP growth over the past five years but that does not mean that everyone is getting wealthier, a senior economist has said.
"GDP growth should not be used as a tool to measure the level of national wealth," Lao National Economic Research Institute Director General, Dr Liber Libouapao, told the Vientiane Times this week.
He said the government had assigned the institute to develop a new tool to measure national wealth in place of GDP growth, as Laos prepares to free itself from Least Developed Country status by 2020. "The United Nations will make the decision as to whether Laos can rise above Least Developed Country status by 2020, not us," he said. He stressed that it was important to know the main UN criteria for developing nations, so that Laos can accurately measure its progress towards these goals.
The National Assembly has presented 356 million kip as relief aid to the National Defence Ministry to further present to flood victims in central and southern provinces.
The handover of the assistance took place at the Ministry of National Defense on Monday Dec 5, Between Vice-President of the National Assembly, Mr. Somphanh Phengkhammy, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense, who is also President of Commission on Natural Disaster Prevention Lt. Gen. Douangchay Phichith in the witness of relevant officials.
On this occasion, Lt. Gen. Douangchay assured the giver that the relief aid package will be distributed to the people who have been affected by flooding.
The National Assembly (NA) has expressed appreciation for the government's timely response to the floods that ravaged the country this year, but said the damage assessment remains unclear.
The comments came yesterday during the Second Ordinary Session of the NA after members heard a report from the government on its response to widespread floods in the rainy season. The severe and long-lasting floods were triggered by tropical storms Haima and Nock-Ten in June and July, affecting more than 500,000 people in 12 provinces.
Health & Life Sciences
Health officials from Laos and Thailand met in Luang Prabang on Nov 29-30 to discuss technical cooperation.
The meeting is part of a capacity building project which is financed by Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. The project is designed to strengthen the capacity building for health officials in eight northern provinces of Luang Prabang, Oudomsay, Houaphanh, Xiengkhouang, Phongsaly, Luang Namtha, Sayabouly and Bokeo.
On the eve of World AIDS day, the U.S. Embassy continued its strong support for HIV/AIDS prevention efforts in Lao PDR by providing $42,303 U.S. dollars worth of HIV/AIDS/STI peer education and prevention materials to the Lao People's Army and the Ministry of Health.
The donation was received by the Centre for HIV/AIDS/ STI of the Ministry of Health and the HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit, Military Medical Department, Ministry of National Defense.
Huaphan province has become the first province to provide measles and rubella vaccinations to 100 percent of the targeted population. Deputy Director of the Health Department, Dr Thongbay Thavisouk, saidlast week she was happy that the vaccination campaign was so successful and finished ahead of schedule.
"All the target group of more than 121,000 people aged from nine months to 19 years old received their free vaccinations," she said. This was the second round of measles and rubella vaccinations in Laos, after the first round took place in Champassak, Saravan, Xekong and Attapeu provinces from November 1 to 14, where health officials reached 97 percent of the targeted population.
Kinoy Phongdeth, 34, was one of the first four people given antiretrovirals (ARVs) when the medication initially arrived in Laos in 2003. Now, there are 1,600 people on treatment and the number is expected to jump to 7,000 by 2015, according to the government.
Out of a total population of 6.3 million, the national prevalence of 0.2 percent among 15-49-year-olds puts the 8,500 reported HIV/AIDS cases in Laos nearly a decade behind that of its neighbours.
But the global recession has left health workers wondering what will happen to the country's US$43 million Global Fund HIV/AIDS grant, $24 million of which has been disbursed since 2003 to the government. The HIV grant in Laos is up for review in June 2012, according to the Global Fund.
Landlocked Laos, one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, is striving to become the 'battery' for the power-hungry region.
But can the building of dams go hand-in-hand with sustainable development? Construction of a dam anywhere around the world often draws criticism. At full capacity, the Nam Theun 2 hydro project features 450 square kilometres of water catchment and in the backdrop 4,000 square kilometres of nature protected area.
Lao Airlines expected to purchase two more new airbuses A-321 that will be bigger than airbus A-320 to be available for overseas route service by 2014.
Deputy Director of Lao Airlines, Mr Sengpaseuth Mathouchanh said the new aircrafts can accommodate 190 passengers that will serve flight route between Vientiane and Seoul, Vientiane and Guangzhou in China and other countries. However the plan is on study. So far, the Lao Airlines has purchased two airbuses A-320 to improve its flight routes service between neighbouring countries.
The Mekong River Commission Council Members today concluded that there is a need for further study on the sustainable development and management of the Mekong River including impact from mainstream hydropower development projects.
The Council Members, comprising water and environment ministers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, agreed in principle to approach the Government of Japan and other international development partners to support the conduct of further study.
The United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday approved a resolution calling on US representatives at multinational banks to suspend financial support to environmentally questionable projects on the Mekong River, including the planned Xayaburi dam in Laos.
The unanimously approved non-binding resolution cites the country's "significant economic and strategic interests" that may be "jeopardised if the construction of mainstream dams places the region's stability at risk".
The U.S. Embassy marked the 10th anniversary of its flagship programme to preserve and protect Laos' cultural heritage by officially announcing two new major cultural preservation projects, as well as unveiling a photo exhibit at the National Museum in Luang Prabang documenting the success of previous projects.
Since 2001, the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) in Lao PDR has provided more than $300,000 in funding for a dozen different cultural preservation projects. This year, the AFCP is supporting two new projects: One to restore Luang Prabang's famous Wat Xieng Thong, and another to document the unique cultural traditions of the Katu ethnic minority group in southern Laos.
National Assembly mem-bers have called for the Telecommunications Law to be actively enforced rather than merely serving as a definition, and for the law to protect users and national interests.
The 10-year-old law was introduced for debate during the second ordinary session of the National Assembly's (NA) 7th Legislature on Saturday under the chairmanship of NA Vice President Dr Xaysomphone Phomvihane. The law focuses on government policies relating to business operation, principles to ensure fairness among telecom service providers, frequency management, the rights and powers of government authorities on technical standards and equipment quality, rights and obligations of service providers, and regulation of Ministry of Post and Telecommunications officials.
Scientists identify a new species every two days in the Greater Mekong region, the WWF said Monday, in a report detailing 2010's more unusual finds such as a leaf warbler and a self-cloning lizard.
But the conservation group warned some species could disappear before they are ever recorded because of man-made pressures in the Southeast Asian area, described in the report as "one of the last frontiers" for new discoveries. More than 200 species were newly recorded last year in the Greater Mekong, which includes Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan.
Samneua, a district in northern province Houaphanh, has been awarded ASEAN Green and Clean City Award 2011.
Such an award is the first ever for the district, which is enclosed with green and mountainous landscapes. The awarding ceremony for the winning districts in member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was held in Indonesia on Nov 23 in which Deputy Chief District Administrator of Samneua Mr. Liensay Bounmanivanh received the award from the organizing committee.
Lao business operators want Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (CLV) to offer a single visa to foreign tourists as they believe a simpler immigration procedure will boost tourism development in the Indochina region.
Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry board member Mr Chinda Vongsouly raised the issue at the 6th Conference on Promotion of Trade, Investment and Tourism on Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam Development Triangle Zone held in Attapeu capital on Wednesday.
"A single visa for CLV should be made available, to promote the marketing concept of visiting the three countries as one destination," he said at the one-day conference, which was attended by some 100 policymakers from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.