Category Archives: Environment

Simple, Natural, Innovative As BambooLao Straws Slurp Up Tourism Award

Luang Prabang’s very own BambooLao has captured the top prize and a US$10,000 Innovation Grant in the 2018 Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) challenge, which is described as “an elite travel startup competition, supported by the Australian Government and Asian Development Bank, (including) Asia’s most prominent travel-specialized venture capitalists among its advisors.

“BambooLao is on a mission to eliminate single-use plastics from hotels and resorts across Asia. They have produced more than 80,000 reusable bamboo straws and other bamboo utensils, using indigenous bamboo varieties and a proprietary natural treatment process.

“Their straws are used by Aman Group, Pullman, Rosewood Group, and Sofitel properties, as well as EXO Travel tours. BambooLao estimates their environmentally-friendly products have displaced the use of 5 million single-use plastic straws.”

MIST’s top prize comes with a USD10,000 innovation grant.

 

BambooLao

Winner of MIST’s 2018 Startup Accelerator, Laos’ Luang Prabang’s BambooLao.

“The MIST innovation grant will help us scale–up production from one to three villages. We must invest in capacity to meet growing international demand,” said BambooLao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune was reported as saying.

Bamboo Straws Production
Bamboo straw production a community process.

Vietnamese startup Ecohost reportedly captured MIST’s second prize and received a USD5,000 grant. Ecohost facilitates quality tourism experiences in the Vietnamese countryside, working with rural communities to develop tours and activities while improving the capacity of local homestays to serve international guests.

“BambooLao, Ecohost, and other MIST finalists demonstrate how the Mekong region’s bright, innovative entrepreneurs are finding practical solutions to solve industry problems while striving to make tourism more inclusive and sustainable,” said Jens Thraenhart, co-organizer of MIST and executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.

According to the organisation, “MIST supports high-growth-potential emerging market startups in travel and hospitality, particularly startups that generate positive impacts for communities, culture, and the environment. The program’s five 2018 finalists refined their business acumen and pitching skills during MIST’s weeklong business fundamentals boot camp, five months of customized coaching by industry experts, and MIST pitch competitions in Ho Chi Minh City, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, and ITB-Asia’s Mekong Travel Startup Forum in Singapore.”

 

Risk-Informed Development Road to Reducing Hazards Threatening Lives in Climate Change Age

Disaster Risk Reduction

“Hazards are not disasters (yet) they can wreak havoc and become disasters when people are vulnerable.

“Risk-informed development planning can ensure that vulnerability to natural hazards is minimized.”

This was the message as news media in Laos carried an opinion piece to mark International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction and the ASEAN Disaster Management Day on October 13 inked by the United Nations, European Union and World Bank.

It comes just a week after the landmark 2018 report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday. The report revealed the latest forecasts on a future expected to see the intensity and regularity of extreme weather events on the rise.

“This year’s theme of “Reducing disasters’ economic losses” is more relevant than ever, and a key agenda item for Lao PDR,” the article read.

The call to understand the true costs of disasters was previously reported by the Laotian Times in an article entitled “Counting the Costs: Disaster Needs in Laos Accumulate as Gov, UN, EU, WB Calculate Impacts in September.

Read the opinion piece for International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction in full below…

———-

Risk-informed Development

Assessing damages, losses and needs following a disaster

is the first step towards preventing and reducing

the impact of future natural hazards

by UN in Lao PDR, World Bank in Laos, EU in Laos

“We mark the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction and the ASEAN Disaster Management Day every year on 13 October.

In Lao PDR – in the aftermath of tropical storms Sontinh and Bebinca and floods across all provinces – this day gives us an opportunity to raise awareness on disaster risk reduction, while securing and sustaining the participation of all.

This year’s theme of “Reducing disasters’ economic losses” is more relevant than ever, and a key agenda item for Lao PDR.

One of the three criteria for the country’s graduation from Least Developed Country status by 2024 is the Economic Vulnerability Index, which measures resilience to shocks and instability. There are concrete opportunities for Lao PDR to achieve this target by making disaster risk reduction an integral part of its development trajectory.

We jointly support this ambitious goal by working in close partnership with national and international stakeholders, as well as local communities.

Building back better

After a disaster, the primary focus is on how to respond to the needs of the affected communities and recover quickly and effectively. Reconstruction needs to be aligned with the principles of building back better, not only to ensure that livelihoods can be restored quickly but also to reduce the risks of future disasters. Doing so ensures that people are better equipped and better prepared to withstand shocks.

Global evidence shows that when countries rebuild stronger, faster and more inclusively, they can reduce the magnitude of the impact of future disasters on people’s livelihoods. During disaster recovery and reconstruction, risk management can be integrated across many sectors. Examples include implementing climate-resilient agricultural practices, reinforcing critical infrastructure, integrating risk management into investment decisions and budgets, and strengthening risk reduction policies.

Cooperation and innovation for response and recovery

Before reconstruction can start, it is crucial to assess damages, losses and needs, including the resources needed for the recovery phase. The Government of Lao PDR launched a nationwide Post-Disaster Needs Assessment on September 24th to inform the development of a Disaster Recovery Framework. This framework ensures that the response phase links up with early-, medium-, and long-term recovery activities and facilitates coordinated support from the international community, civil society, and the private sector.

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment follows a well-tested methodology developed by the United Nations Development Group, the World Bank and the European Commission, and underpins cooperation mechanisms between agencies with complementary capacities.

It includes innovative approaches – such as satellite imagery to collect “big data” that can allow rapid geographic and spatial analysis.

The process is led by the Government out of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and is inclusive of all stakeholders, including vulnerable social and ethno-cultural groups.

Risk-informed development

The shared goal is for Lao PDR to better address and contain the impact of future disasters.

Reaching this objective requires better integrating risk management into vulnerable sectors, strengthening preparedness and exploring innovative financial solutions, such as disaster risk insurance mechanisms.

Investing in resilience pays off at multiple levels: it saves lives and reduces the magnitude of destruction and losses. It also generates co-benefits, such as improving the quality of development and promoting sustainable approaches to tackle the impact of climate change.

The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment field work is currently underway across the country, with focus on the hardest hit provinces. Findings are expected by the end of October and will inform high-level discussions on both national planning and international development assistance.

Hazards are not disasters. They can wreak havoc and become disasters when people are vulnerable. However, risk-informed development planning can ensure that vulnerability to natural hazards is minimized. This, in turn, will increase the resilience of the people of Lao PDR, so that tragedies of recent extent are contained to the extent possible.”

This article was co-authored by the United Nations in Lao PDR, the World Bank Lao PDR and the Delegation of the European Union to the Lao PDR.

Ms Kaarina Immonen

Ms. Kaarina Immonen is the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Lao PDR and the UN Development Programme’s Resident Representative. Ms. Immonen started her career in the UN in 1991 and has been serving in the Lao PDR since 2014.

Mr. Nicola Pontara

World Bank’s Mr. Nicola Pontara is Country Manager for Lao PDR. He joined the World Bank in 2000, and has been based in Lao PDR since July of this year. Mr. Pontara holds a PhD in Economics from the University of London (SOAS).Mr Leo Faber

Mr. Leo Faber is the first resident Ambassador of the European Union to the Lao PDR and has been serving since 2016. Mr. Faber holds a Master’s degrees in Sinology, Classical and Modern Chinese Philology, and European History.

 

Connectivity, People, Environment: PM Thongloun Joins Mekong-Japan Summit in Tokyo

PM Thongloun (left) & PM Abe

Mekong-Japan cooperation, connectivity, people links and the environment are major themes as Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith meets counterparts from neighbouring countries and Japan in Tokyo Tuesday.

Joining Dr Thongloun in being hosted by Japanese counterpart PM Shinzo Abe at today’s tenth Mekong-Japan summit in the capital of Japan are Cambodia’s Mr Hun Sen, State Counsellor of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar H.E. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Kingdom of Thailand’s Mr. Prayut Chan-o-cha and Vietnam’s Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

It comes as Dr Thongloun and Japan counterpart Mr Abe held a press conference Monday evening, agreeing for Japan to lend further ongoing support to unexploded-ordnance related projects in Laos at the cost of 900 million yen.

The two agreed to facilitate cooperation between Mittaphab hospital in Vientiane and Kitahara Neurosurgical Institute of Japan, according to the pool reports to Laos’ media by pool reporter from Lao News Agency KPL.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting has been held every year since 2009 to strengthen the relationship between Japan and the Mekong countries, and for the sustainable development of and narrowing the development gap within the Mekong region.”

“This Summit is expected to further strengthen the relationship between Japan and the Mekong region.”

After their meeting, the leaders are scheduled to interact with the business community at an investment summit.

They are also expected to meet with youth football players attending “Japan-Mekong Youth Exchange Program (football)” organized as a part of the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS2018) via Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE).

The annual summits are held in the participating countries on a rotating roster, with Japan hosting on a triennial basis. The Laotian Times reported Laos’ hosting of the 8th Mekong-Japan summit in 2016 alongside the 28th & 29th ASEAN Summits.

 

Climate, Peace, Development Desires Aired as Laos Meets World at Annual UN Assembly

Mr Saleumxay Kommasith

Between US President Donald J. Trump’s signature America First rhetoric and self-appraisals generating “spontaneous murmurs” and the attendance of New Zealand’s first baby and mum Jacinda Adern, you might be forgiven for missing Laos’ Foreign Minister in the international news reports generated at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly this weekend.

Yet crucial issues of climate change, support for vulnerable communities and countries, sustainable development, peace on the Korean peninsula and beyond and the unilateral imposition of sanctions were among those issues raised by Laos when it had the opportunity to speak directly to the international community.

Laos’ Foreign Minister Saleumxay told the UN General Assembly on Saturday in New York that Laos supported and urged the international community to uphold and further strengthen multilateralism. “This remains one of the core values of our only universal organization, the United Nations,” he said.

Realizing the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at a time of a changing climate requires national governments and the international community to work “hand-in-hand’ with extra thought to the vulnerable, particularly Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. “Against this backdrop, it is more crucial than ever for world leaders to honour the commitments pledged in the Paris Agreement.”

Laos also highlighted the critical importance of peace and security for socio-economic progress in all nations. “Past experiences have shown that settling disputes by peaceful means is the best way to ensure durable peace that is essential for sustainable development of a nation.”

The international community must help build mutual trust and confidence among countries to support them overcome challenges between them and resolve disputes peacefully, he said.

As such, Minister Kommasith welcomed the thawing of relations in the Korean Peninsula and between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States.“We hope that such positive momentum will be strengthened, thereby, contributing to the maintenance of peace and stability, and denuclearization in the region as a whole.”

He also called for the end to the economic blockade of Cuba, given that the enforcement of isolation and sanction measures imposed on any country may not bring about benefits to the international community. “On the contrary, it will cause a loss for all and lead to increasing hostility,” the minister said.

The Lao minister expressed his country’s concern on the continued lack of progress on the Isreal-Palestine front.“We hope that this long overdue issue on Palestine will be resolved by peaceful means in order to achieve a two-state solution where Palestine and Israel can live side by side in peace, security and within internationally recognised borders as stipulated in the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions,” Minister Saleumxay said.

Mr Kommasith also underlined the need to address the scourge of transnational crime, at all levels, noting Laos’ commitment with regional countries at the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the international community in the fight against illicit drug trafficking, illegal wildlife trade, human trafficking and other serious crimes.

Counting the Costs: Disaster Needs in Laos Accumulate as Gov, UN, EU, WB Calculate Impacts

Child flood victims

The tragic loss of life and heavy impacts on livelihoods amid disaster triggered by pounding rains and rushing waters means there is no doubt 2018 has proved a challenging and heartbreaking one for too many people in Laos.

This rainy season has impacted on lives and livelihoods, and nowhere more than in Sanamxay district in Attapeu province, site of the impact of the water released by the collapse of Saddle Dam D at Xe Pian Xe Namnoy project still under construction.

An assessment of the total impact is being conducted as a concerted effort by the government, supported by the United Nations, the World Bank and the European Union – EU and is meant to provide in-depth insight on the damage the floods have caused, as well as to define what is needed to fully recover from such impacts.

The importance of accurately and timely measurement of impacts and recovery efforts saw the launch of the 2018 Post-Disaster Needs Assesment Monday attended by some 150 including government representatives led by the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare.

The effort will cover the entire country, and focus will be put on the most affected, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare and Chairman of the National Disaster Prevention and Control Committee (NDPCC), Dr Khampheng Saysompheng told the opening ceremony of the orientation on the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA).

Disasters reduce development gains & hamper economic growth, meaning that planning and building in resilience are essential in an era of climate change and to achieve Laos National Socio-Economic Development Plans and the United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the meeting heard.

A total of 2,409 villages with 113,507 families have been affected by disasters nationwide in 2018, the NDPCC reported.

Around 17,000 people are currently evacuated from their villages, and 500 kms of damaged roads are making access to these areas difficult.

Some 62 million dollars’ worth of crops and farmlands have been hit and more than 100,000 hectares of paddy fields have been damaged.

Authorities have arranged temporary accommodation for 3,616 families whose homes were damaged or destroyed.

As the figures suggest, accurately gauging the extent of the impact nationwide is an ongoing challenge.

As such, government officials met with counterparts of development partner bodies to hold a brainstorming session on ways to best assist flooding victims nationwide and estimate damages and losses caused by the slew of recent disasters across the country.

The objectives of the meeting were to assess costs and losses caused by the recent floods across the country, to identify recovery needs to develop a sustainable recovery strategy and to guide donors funding, aiming to build back better and safer and ensure a more successful, resilient and sustainable recovery.

Dr Khampheng called on the participants to share lessons learned from other natural disasters for the successful implementation of relief and rehabilitation measures.

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP resident representative, Ms Kaarina Immonen said while the Asia–Pacific region experienced rapid economic growth, disaster risk is outpacing resilience.

For Laos, the emphasis on strengthening disaster risk management is particularly important as this will build resilience to future extreme weather events, Ms Immonen said.

Laos, Mekong habitat hotspot aid helps communities, climate, conservation

Human lives and habitats intertwine

With a habitat range boasting more biodiversity per square metre than the mighty Amazon basin, the arc where mountains meet the plains via the Mekong and other major river valleys form the Indo-Burma hotspot that includes Laos is well known as an area of immense natural and ecological value that is nevertheless under increased threat from degradation as populations and demands grow and the climate changes.

Efforts to protect, preserve and nurture wildlife habitat and the landscapes as well as the communities that live nearby have been given a boost via a 4-year project to support conservation activities centered on six high biodiversity landscapes in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Encompassing some 14 protected areas in total regionwide, the Financing Agreement for the conservation of biodiversity and green growth in the Indo-Burma hotspot is co-financed by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The hotspots in Laos subject to the agreement include Phou Sithone (Bolihamxay), Nam Gnouang (Bolikhamxay) and Nam et Phou Louey (Houapanh LPB and Xieng Khuang). 

The three parties inked an agreement in Vientiane Wednesday for joint implementation by local authorities of each country, the private sector and WCS teams on the ground.

The project will focus on 5 key components and follows a first 4-year phase (2014-2018) and aims at strengthening the achievements, extending geographical coverage and developing integrated management models for landscapes.

Components include (i) an integrated landscape management approach, (ii) development of community-led enterprises that value the conservation of biodiversity, (iii) Improvement of commercial practices for green growth, (iv) promotion of the application of environmental, social and governance safeguard standards, and (v) communication and experience-sharing.

‘Climate and Biodiversity are global common goods. Tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity are top priorities for France,’ Her Excellency Ms Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, Ambassador of France to the Lao PDR told the gathering for the signing of the agreement in Vientiane attended by Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Mr Khambounnath Xayanone and Director-General of Department of Forestry, Mr Susath Xayakhoummaane and representatives of the embassies of Myanmar and Cambodia to Laos.

“This project will directly address the strategies identified in Laos’ National Biodiversity and Action Plan that aims to enhance the role of biodiversity as a national heritage and as a substantial contributor to poverty alleviation, as well as sustainable and resilient economic growth,’ Dr Santi Saypanya, WCS Lao PDR Deputy Director said.

He said WCS has been present in the countries of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia for over 20 years.

This project ‘fits very well within the National Biodiversity Strategies of each country, and setting up public-private partnerships to finance the protection of biodiversity is a sustainable mechanism to be modeled for ensuring inclusive local economic development’, Mr. Matthieu Bommier, Head of AFD Vientiane Office, told the gathering.

‘Lessons emerging from WCS’s regional program show that responding to large-scale drivers of deforestation in high biodiversity landscapes requires solutions that integrate action across multiple scales with engagement of local communities, government, business sector developers, and financial investors.

“These drivers of deforestation, which are local, national and international in scope and scale, continue to exert severe and growing pressure on protected areas and local livelihoods in these high biodiversity landscapes, and demand sustained and coordinated action at multiple scales to address them,’ he said.

This presence forms the backbone of the WCS Greater Mekong priority region, providing the most advanced WCS regional program in terms of addressing major cross-cutting threats to biodiversity conservation and human welfare.

WCS has multi-year MoUs with the governments of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia enabling a smooth and collaborative continuation of activities from the previous phase.

A video highlighting ongoing efforts including the popular tourist-friendly Nam Nern Night Safari at Nam Et Phou Louey Protected Area in Huaphan province was also screened at the signing.