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Climate change could pose real threat to Lao development

Bali, Indonesia: Climate change looks set to pose a significant threat to the Lao economy, with prolonged droughts now damaging energy production and agricultural activities, according to a Lao official speaking at a regional panel discussion during the 10th World Water Forum.

Ms Sengphavouk Xayavong speaks about water scarcity and management in Laos.

During a session on water scarcity management in Southeast Asia held on May 22, Ms Sengphasouk Xayavong from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, highlighted the link between climate change, water scarcity, and economic development.
Ms Sengphasouk, who is also Deputy Director of the Policy Division at the Water Resource Department, said climate change is one of the primary causes of prolonged droughts in Laos. This weather change could severely impact energy production and agricultural activities, which are key drivers of economic growth.
“Water scarcity could damage agricultural activities, which employ a significant proportion of the Lao population. Farmers without access to irrigation systems could be more severely affected by water shortages,” she said in her presentation.
Ms Sengphasouk said that, in addition to climate change, high water consumption due to population growth and unsustainable agricultural practices contribute to water scarcity in Laos. The country’s mountainous terrain also poses significant challenges for expansion of the water supply network.
She added that, based on reports, the economic loss due to water scarcity in Laos was US$40 million in 1988 when the country faced a serious drought. Prolonged dry spells also resulted in economic losses of US$20 million in 1989, US$5 million in 1998, and US$16 million in 2003.
According Ms Sengphasouk since Laos relies heavily on hydropower for electricity generation and export, water scarcity could disrupt hydropower production, leading to energy shortages and affecting both domestic consumption and export revenues.
She said that being aware of the critical challenge posed by water scarcity, the Lao government has invested in water infrastructure and promoted international cooperation with key development partners, including the UNDP, the Ministry of Environment, the Republic of Korea, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the Australian Water Partnership, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Global Water Partnership (GWP), and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). These partnerships aim to ensure the sustainable and equitable distribution of water resources.
According to information posted on the Electricité du Laos (EDL) Facebook page on May 10, Laos was now facing a shortage of water needed to generate electricity for use across the country.
In the post, EDL, which is the only state enterprise responsible for electricity distribution in Laos, said water storage in its power plants was below 30 percent, making power generation unusually low.
Reduced electricity generation means that EDL has had to import electricity from neighbouring countries to meet the rising demand for power during peak load times in the dry season, the post says.
In April, peak power consumption rose to 2,015MW, while the supply capacity was only 1,660MW.
Laos has more than 70 electricity generation facilities, mainly hydropower. However, most power plants are foreign-owned and are dedicated to export. Only a small proportion of the power plants under EDL’s supervision generate electricity for distribution within Laos.

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
 (Latest Update May 24, 2024)

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