2016 was a good year. Of course, it had its shares of ups and downs, but if there is one predominant feeling that transpired through the Team’s work this year here in Laos, it is hope. This hope does not come from a practice of hopeful thinking. It is rather a feeling linked with a number of positive developments in 2016 that WWF Laos, along with its partners in the international development network and with the cooperation and support from government partners from several line ministries, have been hard at work to achieve over the the course of the year.
The Prime Mister’s order No.15 on strict enforcement of timber laws earlier this year, the recent declaration of the Lao government on its intentions to close down tiger farms and other illegal wildlife operations, and more recently, bilateral regional agreements to crackdown on illegal logging and wildlife trafficking in trans-boundary areas, are developments that truly inspire hope for the future of Laos, its ecosystems, its people, and in turn, its sustainable, balanced and equitable development.
Despite our programme having having faced hefty financial challenges in 2016 - with major projects closing and limited funding - 2016 was still a good year.
We have achieved a few milestones this year in the practices hosted by
our Country Office. Freshwater: The community fisheries programme
component is now being funded, with exciting work ahead in trans-boundary areas between Thailand and Laos. The latest numbers coming out of community fisheries work are good: 10 (166 ha) additional Fish Conservation Zones (FCZs) created in Central Laos, with 70 fishermen trained, bringing the total in 2016 to 258 (1659 ha) of FCZs in continued operation; while 39 ha of trans-boundary river areas remain protected in 8 FCZs on the Mekong River.
Our forests are doing better too: with more than 434,000 ha of protected areas maintained, and their management continuously improved, while 5,500 ha of natural forests have now achieved FSC certification for rattan & bamboo by 2016. The Eld’s deer sanctuary has by 2016 tripled
its population compared to when the WWF project started, reaching an
estimated 100 individuals this year.
A total of 245,268 ha of High Conservation Value Forest were mapped in FY16, including 193,511
ha in the Eld’s Deer Sanctuary, which is now under consideration by the government for upgrading to a National Protected Area. Green School programmes are thriving in 8 schools in the Siphandone area, also know as the ‘Four Thousand Islands’, and fundraising is now in progress to scale up the Green School programme to other schools in National Protected Areas.
Climate change is a reality that can no longer be contested. And this reality goes beyond our desire to safeguard our environment and ecosystems. If the effects of climate change are not mitigated carefully, the consequences will be felt, economically, and geopolitically, all across the planet, the Greater Mekong region and here in Laos. At the occasion of the Launch of the WWF Power Sector Vision 2050 Report, we have been able to demonstrate to government and private sector partners that the using the Vision for 2050 which is now integrated into our National Power Strategy, can help Laos achieve a 100% shift towards sustainable renewable energy by 2050.
In this day and age, and faced with the reality that Laos is developing at an incredibly fast rate, hope is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Growing
urban populations and expansion of the country’s transport and energy infrastructure, coupled with an ever-increasing number of Small to Medium Sized Enterterprises and a growing number of industrial operations is taking its toll on the country’s natural resources and ecosystems. We are now faced with a situation that calls for a systemic change needed to ensure that such rapid economic development is not shortsighted, and does not come at the price of destroying our forests, rivers and other natural resources.
Saying that we are, here in Laos, at the front-lines of the battle for saving the region’s ecosystems, is not much of an overstatement, after all, but we remain hopeful that with the support of the network, our counterparts and our partners, we will continue to play our part in the solution, and that we will achieve our vision for this beautiful country.