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Monday, June 9, 2008

Deforestation impacts hydropower potential

Deforestation could negatively impact hydropower projects, according to the National Land Management Authority president.

Speaking at a press conference in Vientiane yesterday, Mr Kham-ouan Boupha said levels of deforestation in Laos were already back to those of 1989, when 47 percent of Laos was covered in forest.

The current situation was even more worrisome, because this figure had further reduced, he said.

“In 1989 we should have held up a red light to logging, but now the problem has got even worse,” he said.

“If we faced a red light then, I don't know what colour light we're facing now.”

Mr Kham-ouan maintains he has seen satellite images which back up his claim.

He said if Laos 's forests continued to disappear, it would damage the potential of local hydropower projects.

If deforestation occurs in a reservoir's catchment area this contributes to soil erosion. Soil then fills the reservoir and reduces the life of the hydropower project.

Mr Kham-ouan said he knew of several hydropower dams that had failed to meet production targets for this reason, including Houayho in southern Laos and Nam Mang in Borikhamxay province.

“Another dam in Luang Namtha province has insufficient water for electricity production because people cleared forests for rubber tree plantations,” he said.

Mr Kham-ouan said illegal logging and slash and burn cultivation were contributing to forest decline.

He said deforestation also contributed to changing weather patterns and the increasing frequency of floods and droughts in Laos during the past two years.

In order to encourage reforestation and protect Laos 's capacity for hydropower, Mr Kham-ouan has called on officials from relevant sectors to strictly enforce current laws to ensure illegal logging is eradicated.

Another challenge in preserving forests is instances of villagers taking ownership of state land without permission, including forest areas, and clearing the land for farming.

This problem could be addressed if villagers were given land titles and legal rights to land, and these land titles were enforced to prevent forested land from being damaged.

Foreign investment must also preserve the environment while ensuring local people benefit.

In addition to deforestation, this was also important for poverty reduction, he said.

Mr Kham-ouan found many investment projects had implemented a “1+4” policy by employing villagers to work as labourers.

He said this was not a good way to reduce poverty.

“One man I met in Xayaboury province earns about 50 million kip per year from farming his land on his own. In contrast, labourers earn only 20,000 to 25,000 kip a day.” By these calculations, if a labourer worked every day of the year he would only earn about 9 million kip.

The government's policy is encouraging investors to implement the “2 + 3” policy to ensure investment is beneficial to investors and local people, as well as to the country in general.

Under this policy, investors must provide funding, technical training and a ready market, while villagers provide their land and labour.

By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update June 6, 2008)

1 comment:

PeaceFromTrees said...

Thanks for posting this article...

I'll include it in my next edition of Earth's Tree News, which can be viewed here:

Be well, Deane