Lao: Forest Fires in Lao PDR (IFFN No. 20)

Forest Fires in Lao PDR

(IFFN No. 20 – March 1999, p. 20)

General Information

Lao PDR is an independent country which covers a land area of 236,800 km2 and is bordered by China, Myanmar, Viet Nam, Campouchea, and Thailand. All the country is located in the watershed of the Mekong river which originates in China and traverses from the north to the south of country. About 75% of the land area is located in hills and mountains. The number of the total population of Lao is 4.8 million (1997 census). 80% of the population are living in rural villages, and the population growth rate is about 2%.

Forest and Land Use

It was estimated that in the 1940s about 70% of the country was covered by forest. During the 1960s the forests were largely destroyed mainly as consequences of the war. According to the estimation made in 1973 the forest coverage was reduced to 54%, and in 1981 the total forest cover was about 47% or 11.2 million ha. During the past the forest was still gradually destroyed by shifting cultivation practice of the rural populations. It is recognized that the forest in Lao PDR are under pressure by people lacking alternative for survival other than shifting cultivation or encroachment on forest land.

The statistics of 1992 reveal that 277,000 families practice shifting cultivation on 1.6 million ha. In 1998 this number was reduced to 142,745 families and 132,500 ha. In 1999 the government plans to reduce shifting cultivation to 130,000 families on a total area of 128,000 ha.

Main Causes of Forest Fire in Lao PDR

The main causes of forest fire in Lao PDR are:

  • Slash-and-burn cultivation practice without firebreak, and
  • Traditional hunting to drive out animals

It is estimated that 90% of the forest fires originate from slash-and-burn cultivation practice of upland farmers. The degradation caused by fire is repeated year after year. No reliable statistics are available.

Forest Fire Control in Lao PDR

Obviously, there are no appropriate methods available for forest fire control. The government also lacks forest fire control equipment. It is particularly difficult to find suitable methods to control fire in mountainous and less inaccessible area. In order to prevent and control wildfires the following measures have to be taken:

  • Provide sustainable land-use and job opportunities for shifting cultivators
  • Motivate the shifting cultivators to understand about how to prevent how to detect and control fires
  • Prepare standard working groups and set up an organization for coordination of regional fire control organization or other government agencies
  • Prepare materials and guidelines for forest fire prevention and suppression.

Mr. Sayasouk Bouaket

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
Department of Forestry
Forest Protection and Wood Industry Division
P.O.Box 811
Lao People’s Democratic Republic

IFFN No. 20
Country Notes

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