Laos, a landlocked mountainous country in the Southeast Asia. The colonial past, Marxism and the strong religious tradition and practice of Theravada Buddhism coexist, with demographic diversity (Laos counts about 80 ethnical groups), and, sadly, the ongoing violations of human rights, genocide of Hmong ethnic minority, and the growing environmental damage.
Much of the country’s life and economic prospects depend on the River Mekong, with its abundant fish resources, and being used as the main means of transport. Water resources and mountainous terrain enables generating and export large quantities of hydroelectric energy, however, availability of electricity is very scarce in many rural areas.
Being a mountainous, covered with primary rainforest, country, only about 4% of the Lao land can be used for agriculture, a mere 0.34% used as permanent crop land, the lowest percentage in the Greater Mekong Subregion, yet agriculture is still one of the principal foundations of the economy, providing 80% of employment. Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for growing rice, and Laos is known for having the greatest number of rice varieties.
Teak is one of the country’s most valuable timber species, yet deforestation in Laos is a major environmental concern. There are many reports and investigations disclosing the systematic illegal felling and rampant timber smuggling into neighbouring countries. The forests of Laos are being plundered by well-connected companies to feed the wood processing industries of Vietnam and China. Virtually all logging operations are linked to forest clearance for infrastructure projects, especially hydropower dams and roads, mining and agricultural plantations. Deforestation also makes supplementing the diet of many native tribes through hunting and gathering more difficult.
Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped 2 million tons of bombs on Laos, making Laos the most heavily bombed country in history relative to the size of its population. That forced many of the ethnic minorities to abandon their farms, and spend months hiding in the rainforests and caves, or fleeing to the neighbouring Thailand. The country is still affected by unexploded ordnance and the long-term effects of the use of chemical weapons.