Vientiane Times August 4, 2014

The Lao government has identified payments for environmental services as a way to achieve environmental management goals and improve smallholder livelihoods. It is recognised that villagers in Laos need some financial incentive and long term interest in the preservation of biodiversity if they are to be recruited to participate in conservation efforts.

However the issue now for policy makers is how they can be rewarded financially for not degrading forests or ecosystems through inappropriate harvesting of trees or forest products or the illegal hunting off wildlife. In this regard, a Memorandum of Understanding to implement a Payments for Environmental Services (PES) scheme in Borikhamxay province was signed recently between the project ‘Effective Implementation of Payments for Environmental Services in the Lao PDR'and the Provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The MOU was signed in Borikhamxay province between the project leader Mr Khamphan Nanthavong from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MONRE) and the Director of the Provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment Mr Khampasong Vongtana. The event was also attended by Deputy GVT Bolikhamxay villagersovernor of Borikhamxay province Ms Bounnhong Sisouvannakhone as well as representatives from the Environment Protection Fund (EPF), the Forestry Department within the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), project team members and other government officials.

The project coordinator, Associate Professor Phouphet Kyophilavong from the National University of Laos, said that the overall project aim was to develop PES policy options for the Lao government. PES schemes aimed to increase the amount and quality of environmental services. This is achieved by establishing and sustaining a financial link between those with a demand for environmental services and those who have the potential to supply them.

PES schemes provide financial benefits to smallholders who improve environmental conditions through changing their land use practices. The payment for villagers will be funded by Theun-Hinboun Power Company though the Environment Protection Fund (EPF).

The payments are expected to commence next year but the officials and advisors concerned have yet to determine exactly how the payments will be calculated or how they will be divided up amongst local communities. However if the pilot project in Borikhamxay proves to be successful it will be proposed to the government for upgrading the scheme into national policy and rolling it out nationwide.

The research activities are being funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research within the Australian government and undertaken by MONRE, MAF, the National University of Laos, the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Western Australia (UWA).

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Khamkeuth District, July 24, 2014

Residents of four villages custom-built by the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC) in Bolikhamxay Province have formally taken ownership of their new houses and community facilities.Handover village

At a ceremony held at Ban Phonthong school on July24, Mr. Somphet Khammany, the District Governor of Khamkeuth and Mr Robert Allen, General Manager of THPC, signed a memorandum acknowledging the official transfer from THPC to the villagers and district of houses, schools, health centres, electricity and water supply systems, roads, irrigation schemes and other community facilities. The total value of the infrastructure is over 109 billion kip (US$14 m).

The people of Nongxong, Sopphouan, Phonthong and Thasala in Khamkeuth District moved to new villages between 2009 and 2012 under the resettlement and relocation programs required for the Theun-Hinboun hydropower expansion project. The expansion, inaugurated in January 2013, more than doubled the electricity generating capacity of THPC to 500 megawatts, enabling the company to significantly increase its contribution to national development.

Around 4,000 people moved from the Nam Gnouang Reservoir area to resettlement villages, including Nongxong, Sopphouan and Phonthong to enable construction of the expansion project. The village of Thasala was relocated from near the Nam Gnouang Dam to the edge of the reservoir, where villagers can take advantage of the fishing potential.

In addition to owning high quality houses in the new villages, and gaining access to greatly improved public services and facilities, the resettled and relocated families can benefit from livelihood programs to help them improve agricultural production or learn new skills for business development.

At the handover ceremony Mr Allen assured villagers that although THPC had transferred ownership of all facilities to the district authority, which would then transfer house and private land ownership to each family, the company remains committed to investing in the communities and some assistance will also be available for road and water supply maintenance.

The THPC social and environmental team works with villagers to help them establish improved livelihoods. In January this year THPC approved over US$50 million for continued programs over the next five years.

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Khamkeuth District, June 4, 2014

Ban Nongxong in Khamkeuth District has been recognised as the first village in Bolikhamxay Province to simultaneously achieve both Model Health Village and Open Defecation Free status.

District health officials, along with partners and representatives of the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC), joined villagers to commemorate the achievement by unveiling a new village sign on June 4.

The award follows a two-year pilot program instituted in the village by THPC. Ban Nonxong is home to around 650 people who moved to the village from other areas in 2009, during expansion of the Theun-Hinboun hydropower project. Among other benefits the new village offered good quality housing, clean water supply, toilets and a clinic.

However, THPC staff noticed that expected improvements in public health were slow to arrive and so in 2013 they approached the Ministry of Health’s National Centre of Environmental Health and Water Supply, Nam Saat, and the Participatory Development Training Centre (PADETC), to help launch a Community-Led Total Sanitation project in Nongxong.

The project has worked with focus groups in the village, including the primary and secondary schools and the Women’s Union, to help people better understand the links between daily behaviour and health levels, and to get better results from the infrastructure in the village. As a result, the number of people using toilets regularly has increased, and people are more aware of how to ensure that water from boreholes or gravity-fed systems is stored or handled correctly so that it remains clean.

An assessment by Khamkeuth District Health Department recently found that more than three-quarters of Nongxong residents had ceased using the bushes around the village as a toilet, thereby conferring “Open Defecation Free” status on the village. At the same time the village also passed 14 established criteria to qualify as the first Model Health Village in Bolikhamxay.

According to Ms Thepphasone Chanthavong, WASH and Nutrition Senior Officer for THPC, the awards made to Ban Nongxong are significant on a national scale and also for the other villages in the Theun-Hinboun project area. “The villagers have worked hard at this under expert guidance from Nam Saat and PADETC,” said Ms Thepphasone. “With the help of the District Health team, THPC is introducing this program to other villages in the area and we hope to achieve similar results in all resettled villages”.

In late May this year the United Nations announced a new campaign to end open defecation, which it says costs about US$260 billion worldwide. According to the UN one billion people in the world still practice open defecation, causing huge economic loss due to illness, death and reduced productivity.

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Four pupils at the Theun-Hinboun School in Khounkham District, Khammouane Province have achieved rankings in the national examinations for gifted students.

star students IMG 1193Somsavath Sykham, a final-year student in the school’s upper secondary section, was one of 20 students selected from across the country to take the national exams in Vientiane in late April after coming first in exams at both district and provincial level. Somsavath was placed fifteenth in the national mathematics exam, a result which delighted the 17-year-old boy, his family and the school.

The school opened in 1996 at the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC) operations camp in Khounkham. Half of the pupils currently enrolled are the children of THPC staff and the other half come from surrounding villages. THPC policy stresses the long-term value of education development and the school formed one of the company’s first investments in this area.

Three 15-year-old students from the school’s lower secondary section also topped their district and provincial results and qualified for the national exams. Miss Patthana Muangbak came sixth in the country for Chemistry, Ketsana Vongpatta finished seventh in maths and Pasith Xaynavong ranked eighth in Lao.

According to Mrs Khamwai Bounleutai, the school’s headmistress, while the school often produces pupils who achieve good results at district and provincial level, this year has been exceptional in terms of national results. In 2013 the school had two pupils make the national level, and both were subsequently offered places at the national Phonesavanh school of excellence

Ajaan Khamwai is in no doubt as to why the school is able to regulalry achieve high level results. “We offer extra classes to the best performing children in the class each year, and we can do this because THPC covers our administration costs and provides the school with good equipment and materials”.

Likewise this year’s star pupils well understand their good fortune in having the opportunity offered by the Theun-Hinboun School. “We know we have an advantage over students from most other schools,” says Somsavath. “Our teachers are much more dedicated than is usual, and that encourages us to strive for excellence.”

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Theun-Hinboun Student Third in National Exam

Hinboun District, June 1, 2013

People in the newly-built village of Ban Phou Houaylat in Hinboun District, Khammouane Province, planted about 2,300 trees around their village to mark National Tree Planting Day on June 1. Joined by local officials and staff from the Theun-Hinboun Power Company (THPC), the villagers took a major step forward in the improving the environment around their new settlement while at the same time contributing to their developing community.2014treeplantPhouHouaylat

The new village was built over the last two years by THPC to provide a flood-safe location for three villages living along the Hinboun River. The Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project, inaugurated in early 2013, is expected to aggravate the length and intensity of the natural floods that occur during some wet seasons, and so THPC has been building relocation villages along the Hinboun and Hai rivers to ensure local people are not endangered.

Two communities, Ban Phakteuk and Ban Songkhone, moved to the Phou Houaylat relocation site in 2013 and the people of Ban Pakveng joined them earlier this year. The new site features improved housing, roads, and other public infrastructure including an irrigation system. Villagers have received new land in the area but also have access to much of their former land nearby.

Leading the tree-planting ceremony were Khammouane provincial officials, together with leaders of Hinboun and neighbouring Khounkham districts, plus THPC management. The saplings included mango, jackfruit, litchi, tamarind and mangosteen trees as well as some shade species and industrial trees.

Teachers and pupils from the village’s two new schools, primary and secondary, will be responsible for looking after the young trees planted around the schoolyards during their first wet season, while householders of the three former villages will maintain those planted around their residential areas.

THPC Deputy General Manager Soulideth Baomanikhoth said the planting of the trees would not only help the new village look greener in the future but would also help people feel more at home in the new village and increase their feeling of belonging. “Moving somewhere new can be difficult”, he said, “and our actions to improve the environment help us connect with the new location”.

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