Managing Water Resources for the People of Lao PDR

Chanthanet Boualapha, Director General of the Department of Water Resources (left) and Kingkham Manivong, Head of the Law Division of the Department of Water Resources (right)


Lao PDR is criss-crossed by hundreds of rivers and waterways. The Lao people rely on them for basic needs: food, irrigation, drinking water and, more recently, for electricity. How can Lao PDR manage all these water needs?


The government of Lao PDR has identified the development of hydropower, which turns falling water into energy, as vital to the country’s economic growth and poverty alleviation. At the same time, the fast pace and large volume of hydropower development is changing the way water is used and is putting pressure on the environment and people’s livelihoods.


IFC is working to counter this trend by increasing the share of new hydropower projects that follow best practice environmental and social standards. As part of its work, IFC has partnered with the World Bank to support the Department of Water Resources of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to revise the Law on Water and Water Resources.


We spoke with Chanthanet Boualapha, Director General of the Department of Water Resources, about the difficult process of revising the law.


IFC: What are some of the key issues that are being addressed in the revision of the Law on Water and Water Resources?


Chanthanet Boualapha: As we are just beginning the revision process, we have started to discuss what we call “hard issues.” They include flood management, data sharing, water quality, and a number of others.


We have already informed the National Assembly (the parliament of Lao PDR) that we are revising the law, and our plan is to submit the law for consideration to the National Assembly in December next year.


IFC: Why is it necessary to revise the Law on Water and Water Resources at this time?


CB: The existing law is from 1996, and since then the conditions have changed. Firstly, at that time, no ministry or department was responsible for managing water resources in Lao PDR. Secondly, the current Law on Water and Water Resources lays down the overall principles for water resource management, but it lacks detail. Lastly, the level of development is different now than it was back then. We see a lot of commercial development in different sectors, including hydropower.


IFC: How will the new law take the hydropower sector into account?


CB: I should say that there are many uses of water, including hydropower, irrigation, and local water supply. We have to consider many different aspects, such as water management, water quality, and flow regimes. But the biggest trend we see is the development of all of Lao PDR's rivers for socio-economic development and poverty reduction so the country can graduate from least developed country status by 2020. Therefore, there is a need for a better management of water resources.


IFC: Who will benefit from a new law?


CB: We look at the river basins as a whole and try to better integrate the management of water resources, with all users in mind. We think about the local communities – and even the current law includes provisions to ensure drinking water for local people. We will work carefully to have water for everybody.


Proper water management is important to protect the environment, to preserve water usage for communities, and for economic purposes.


IFC: A series of public consultations on the process of developing the new law is scheduled throughout the country starting in September 2012. Why is it important to consult the public?


CB: It is very important for us because water is used by many different groups of people. Water is not specific to one certain sector; it is used in communities, for irrigation and consumption, and in the private sector. We need the public consultations to get input from as many stakeholders as possible. Now that private sector plays a bigger role, it is important to also coordinate with them and get their input.


Our goals are to ensure that all stake holders understand the purpose of the new law, and to get their commitment to implementing it. We hope that by conducting broad stakeholder consultations, the new Law on Water and Water Resources can continue to serve the needs of all water users for many years to come.


For more information on IFC in Lao PDR, contact our communications officer