Laos to increase forest coverage in 5-year plan
The Nation (Thailand)
Laos plans to increase its forest coverage from less than 41 per cent now to 65 per cent by 2015, state media reports said.
Increased woodland is important to safeguard the country’s water resources, essential to drive the hydropower plants that earn the country most of its foreign income, the state-run Vientiane Times reported.
The National Assembly last week set down various economic targets in the country’s seventh five-year economic plan for 2011-15, including boosting forest coverage to 65 per cent within the period.
The mountainous, landlocked country is highly dependent on exports of hydroelectric power for its foreign-exchange earnings.
Thailand plans to buy up to 7,000 megawatts of hydropower from Laos. To date, both sides have secured supply contracts for 5,000MW. The contracts were signed amid uncertainties in Thailand, where resistance is growing over power projects deemed unfriendly to the environment.
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand officials have complained that delays of some big projects may lead to power shortage in the years to come. As a solution, Egat recently approved the investment of tens of billions of baht to rebuild its decommissioned power plants.
The agency will not need to issue bonds or borrow to finance the investment if private power projects can proceed as planned. A possible delay in planned nuclear power plants, for the generating of 5,000MW, is another risk factor for the Thai energy sector.
However, Laos’ sustainability of its water resources depends on the protection of the forests and watersheds, according to economists.
Laos’ national forest coverage has dropped from 70 per cent in 1940, at 17 million hectares, to 41 per cent in 2001, when a ban on timber exports was enforced.
Illegal deforestation has been rampant over the past decade, environmentalists claim.
Current reforestation programmes have concentrated on allowing investments in massive rubber plantations in Laos’ border regions with China and Vietnam.
Other targets of the five-year plan include raising the population from 6 million to 6.9 million and achieving annual economic growth of 8 per cent, the report said.
Laos, which has been under a communist regime since 1975, is ranked as one of the world’s poorest countries.
The government remains highly depen-dent on foreign aid to meet its development needs.
In the 2011-15 period, the government claims it will need to invest US 15 billion (Bt453 billion) in various projects to meet its target of 8-per-cent annual economic growth.
Under its five-year development plan, foreign assistance will contribute 19-21 per cent of gross domestic product during the period, keeping the budget deficit at 3-5 per cent of GDP per year, the newspaper reported.
DPA, The Nation
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The Nation (Thailand)