May 17, 2016

Chinese partners contributing to poverty reduction goals in Laos

By:  Xinhua News (China), May 03,2016

VIENTIANE, May 3 (Xinhua) -- The people of China and its South-East Asian neighbor Laos have enjoyed the benefits of amicable diplomatic and cultural relations, as well as healthy trade and exchange across a shared frontier for many aeons.

Now celebrating the 55th anniversary of official diplomatic relations between the two nation states, both countries and their citizens continue to enjoy increasing benefits of a partnership that continues to deepen and evolve continuously to the present.

An important part in the strengthening this relationship can be seen in the contribution to poverty reduction in Laos being made by Chinese companies, including joint venture partners.

For example, in the growing hydroelectric power generation sector in Laos, Chinese companies are contributing to poverty reduction efforts through various corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Remaining one of the world's least-developed countries, Laos occupies more than 236,000 square-km of land and is home to a population estimated at less than 6.5 million people.

Boasting limestone karst peaks and luxuriant tropical forests home to rare wildlife and splendid vistas, the country's highlands welcome greater numbers of international tourists each year.

However, amidst the scenes of natural beauty remain the hard realities of remoteness and logistics that have been barriers to vital services and the socio-economic development for less-well-off inhabitants.

The majority of the country's population continues to live in remote mountainous villages as they have done from generation to generation and due to a lack of infrastructure, especially poor access to transport and income from trade, many have lived their lives isolated from essential services and opportunities to escape structural poverty.

That is changing thanks to the power generated by Laos abundant water resources and the support and corporate expertise, vision and social responsibility provided by companies from China.

Among the countless examples of how such China-based support is benefitting some remote regions, is a small village located deep in Phoukoun district, in Luang Prabang province.

The village of Nanding is an isolated village located 4-hours by car from the central administration of Phoukhoun county, a 5-hour walk from the nearest town, and takes nine hours by car to get to from Vientiane.

There was no electricity in the village until four or five years ago when the corporation constructed the road and transmission after commissioning of the related hydropower station.

Now, poles help to carry wires transmitting electricity to each household, considered a welcome sign of modernity allowing many families to install refrigeration, satellite dishes, lights, as well as music players, amplifiers and speakers, which prove a great boon during family celebrations and village festivals.

Several sturdy tile-roofed houses in bright hues are popping up to replace the older style thatched-roofed variety, reflecting the joyful colors that Lao people typically prefer and improving construction standards.

The deputy head of Nanding village told Xinhua proudly that the population has expanded from 200 persons in 40 households to 707 persons in 119 households over a three-year period as more come to experience the benefits of electric-powered modernity.

"Thanks to Chinese corporations, we have our own schools and clinics now," he also said.

"So, those families living around in the surrounding hills have gradually gathered here and made us a bigger and more prosperous village."

The modern plant buildings associated with the project are located another hour away by car.

Deputy general manager of Nam Ngum 5, Tian Shaoqiang, confirmed the importance of corporate social responsibility.

"After investing in Laos and witnessing the locals' daily struggles, we acted with urgency to implement our corporate social responsibilities," he said.

"It is gratifying to see that people have been living a better life as a result of our efforts."

Another example of Chinese ventures contributions to poverty reduction can also be found in Luang Prabang Province in the catchment of the Nam Ou River, the largest tributary on the north-eastern bank of the Mekong River.

Pak Jim in Muang Ngoy district is proximate to Nam Ou-First Phase Hydropower Project operated by Nam Ou River Basin Hydropower Co., Ltd. (NOHPC), a joint venture between Powerchina Resources Ltd. (PCR) who hold an 85-percent share and Electricite du Laos comprising the remaining 15 percent.

Pak Jim is one of six resettlement villages in the area of Nam Ou 2 hydropower project, having been relocated from a former site to safer ground that now sees it avoiding the seasonal inundations previously incurred.

The village is located at the 20 km mark of a stretch of rural road built especially for project and resettlement villages by NOHPC that connects the villages to Road No. 13, considered the most important lifeline for transport, trade and communication from north to south of Laos.

Although only 30 km in length, the new road required the construction of six bridges bringing the total cost to 7.18 million U.S. dollars and came thanks to the investment.

Once again, greater prosperity has led to villages building new and more sturdy dwellings, permitting visitors to markedly feel the great improvement in the villagers' quality of life.

Deputy general manager of NOHPC in charge of the Environment and Resettlement works, Cao Jixuan, said that while there were only three families whose original dwellings would be directly impacted by the increase in water level, NOHPC insisted on funding the road for the benefit of these and other local villages nearby.

In response, the local villagers have expressed appreciation for the Chinese investment which has helped them overcome former obstacles restricting access to the daily necessities of travel and trade.

A stone monument carrying the two nations' flags and the words Friendship between Lao and China has been set up at the entrance of newly built townships as a lasting testament to the myriad benefits.

Deputy general manager of PCR and general manager of NOHPC, Yu Xiangrong, said the company played an important role in poverty reduction as well as solidifying the relationship between the people of the two friendly, neighboring countries.

"The government and policy is stable in Laos and the relationship between Laos and China is really friendly," Yu Xiangrong said.

"The bilateral trade and economic cooperation is being developed and deepened constantly which has improved investor confidence in Laos. As we can see from the efforts to promote the strategy for jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, this confidence will be further improved."

Across Laos, there are many projects already operated or under construction by other companies from China in multiple sectors.

Such projects are making increasing contributions to local socio-economic development and the essential task of poverty reduction, a goal highly appreciated by Laos' government and its people as they move towards a more developed and prosperous future.

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