Vientiane Times, 20 May 2013
The government has made substantial progress on the ground and policy levels with regard to sustainable and environmentally friendly development, a minister explained on Friday. This has been made possible as a result of support from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Environment Protection Fund (EPF).
Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, Mr Nourin Sinbandhit, highlighted the advances made in carrying out sustainable environmental and social initiatives with the EPF at the annual workshop held by the organisation and stakeholders.
The EPF, a national fund which was set up in 2005, focuses on water resource, hydroelectricity and environmental development in Laos. The fund has helped devise reservoir management activities on the Nam Theun and Nam Ka Ding rivers, which included the setting up of a participatory based management plan for the rivers by the overseeing committee.
For hydroelectricity, the EPF has supported the operations outlined in the national policy for sustainable hydroelectric development, which ran from 2007-2010. This policy designed a platform for the future of hydroelectric development to be built on.
“This is extremely important for Laos, particularly when it seeks to develop mega hydroelectric projects,” Mr Nourin told the workshop, adding that it is expected that about 40 to 50 hydroelectric projects will be operational by the end of 2025.
Notably, the minister said that environmental accountability has been incorporated into the amended Law on Electricity. Article 41 of the law clearly states that hydroelectric project developers are now required to provide dividends to local authorities and communities, as well as contribute to the EPF.
In addition, the fund has supported environmental and social impact assessment processes, including an amendment to the Prime Ministerial Decree on Environmental Impact Assessments.
Mr Nourin added that mega projects are now required to incorporate equitable environmental and social planning into their development. He specified that officials have created a mechanism which saw the Nam Theun II hydroelectric plant – the biggest project of its kind in Laos – contribute financially to environmental and natural resource management projects.
In a speech, the World Bank’s Country Manager for Laos, Ms Keiko Miwa, said that the establishment of environmental and social legal frameworks through the Lao Environmental and Social Project (LEnS) is significant, but the key is putting these frameworks into practice.
Through the EPF, she said the LEnS is “the very first environmental project which the World Bank has supported in Laos.”The programme is supporting the development of government policies at national and provincial levels, including a resettlement and compensation decree, an environmental impact assessment decree, a policy on sustainable hydropower development, and a provincial environment and social action plan.
The World Bank has given US$7 million towards the programme, which will last through this year. Deputy Director General of the Department of Environment and Social Impact Assessment, Mr Thavone Vongphosy, cited in his report that “social and environmental management for development projects has been improved”. He also remarked that some development projects, especially hydropower, have increased their compliance with social and environmental standards by 85 percent due to the legal instruments.