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Climate Change threatens livelihoods in Laos

Climate change has become a buzz word in Laos. But do people really understand what the term means? This is the third of five articles in Vientiane Times, which explains by means of 10 FACTS the causes and effects of climate change and how Laos is coping with its impacts. Each article incorporates two FACTS. This article focuses on FACT 5 and FACT 6.
Fact 5 – Climate in Laos is changing

Predictions are that due to climate change droughts and floods are getting more severe and frequent in Laos.

Climate change is happening globally and affects all countries. But changes in climate can be observed at the national level, too. Scientists observed that between 1961 and 1998 the average rainfall decreased in Laos and that between 1951 and 2000 the average temperature increased by 0.1 – 0.3 degrees Celsius every ten years. Scientists  predict that the number of days with temperatures above 33 degrees Celsius will increase while the number of cooler days with temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius will drop. Furthermore, they anticipate dry seasons to be longer and that rainfall, storms, droughts and floods are getting more severe and frequent. Natural disasters have already become common in Laos. Between 1970 and 2010, a total of 33 natural hazard events were recorded, mainly affecting the Lao population living in rural areas. It is estimated that these floods, droughts, storms and landslides have caused economic damages of over US$400 million. The events not only have a great impact on lives and livelihoods of rural people but also on the overall Lao economy.
Laos is considered very vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. This is mainly due to its geographic and geophysical characteristics: high mountains, narrow river catchment areas and large water bodies. While some regions in the country may be more affected by droughts, the agricultural lands in the Mekong plains and its tributaries are more likely to suffer from floods. It is not easy to predict future climate changes and what the resulting impacts will be on agriculture, water resources, health and the economy. But it is better to be prepared for possible impacts than not being prepared at all.
Fact 6 – Climate change affects people’s lives
Even though only around 10 percent of the land area in Laos is used for agriculture, the majority of the population works in the agricultural sector and practices subsistence farming. In addition to farming, they rely heavily on forests and rivers for income, food, non-timber forest products, shelter, herbal medicines and other resources. Especially, the poor rural population depends on natural resources for their livelihoods.
For example, most of them rely on fish to complement what is lacking in their rice-based diet. As Lao people are so dependent on natural resources, they are also very vulnerable to long-term changes in temperature, rainfall and wind as a result of climate change.
The entire agricultural sector with rice production, animal husbandry, forestry and fisheries directly depends on land resources and climatic conditions. Higher or lower temperatures, variations in rainfall patterns, the degree of soil moisture and the amount of run-off water have a great impact on the level of production. The availability of water may be reduced in regions prone to drought and dry periods. Long-term water shortage and groundwater depletion may lead to reduced agricultural production. Frequent natural disasters destroy agricultural output. Vital food and income sources may be lost this way.
The expansion of agriculture, deforestation and infrastructure development has led to the degradation of natural landscapes.
This can cause a vicious cycle because climate change can make these sensitive systems even more vulnerable to floods, erosion and landslides. As a result, this may cause food insecurity and an increase of poverty. People practicing subsistence farming often do not have the ability to deal with climate change and its effects, because they do not have the necessary economic resources, infrastructure and social safety nets. This reduces the ability to adapt to the potential impacts of climate change. For example, testing drought-resistant or flood-resistant crops is not an option that poor people usually have at their disposal.
Various Lao citizens realise that climate change and environmental degradation are related to people’s livelihood and poverty.
For example, some respondents of an environmental awareness survey conducted by the Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education (ProCEEd) project in Vientiane, Khammuan, Huaphan and Xayaboury stated that “most villagers depend on forests for survival. They used to practice slash-and-burn cultivation and cut down trees for sale”. But when deforestation happens at a large scale “there is climate change: too hot, too many natural disasters like floods and droughts”.
This article has been contributed by ProCEEd (Promotion of Climate-related Environmental Education), a project supported by the Federal Republic of Germany and implemented by the Deutsche GesellschaftfürInternationaleZusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update June 22, 2017)

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