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Laos

Heading south at speed: The China–Laos railway

The Thaiger

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Heading south at speed: The China–Laos railway | The Thaiger

by Selina Ho, NUS

  • Laos is dependent on China to bankroll the US$7 billion project, raising concerns of being caught in a debt trap
  • The Kunming-Vientiane link will eventually connect with a railway line to Bangkok, and southward down the Malay peninsula to Singapore
  • The Laos section of the project is now half complete

Construction on the China–Laos railway began in December 2016 and involves six Chinese contractors from subsidiaries of the state-owned China Railway Group. Contractors now report that it’s half-finished and is on schedule to be completed by December 2021.

The 414 kilometre railway line stretches from Boten, on Laos’ northern border with China, to Vientiane, the Laos capital (map below). It will then connect with Thailand to Malaysia and Singapore as part of a pan-Asia railway that will eventually north-south from Kunming in Yunnan province all the way to Singapore.

The US$7 billion project is a showcase of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road Initiative” for rebuilding infrastructure along the ancient Silk Road from China to Africa and Europe.

The Laos government’s role is to leverage its section of the railway to transform Laos from a ‘landlocked’ to a ‘land-linked’ country. Laos’ one-party system has allowed the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, which has governed since 1975, to push ahead with the project. This is different from Thailand and Malaysia where opposition and countless ‘reports’ have slowed the progress southward.

The rapid progress in the China–Laos railway line has made it a poster child of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Heading south at speed: The China–Laos railway | News by The Thaiger

Construction of the railway has created more than 5000 jobs for the local people and ‘changed the lives of local villagers whose dreams have now come true”, according to Xinhua media in China.

But these upbeat reports from Chinese media gloss over the challenges in constructing the China–Laos section of the railway. Difficult terrain and geography mean that a total of 170 bridges and 72 tunnels have to be constructed through Laos’ mountainous terrain.

Then there’s the remnants of the Indochina War (Vietnam War) which left an enormous volume of unexploded ordnance. Construction companies have been forced to suspend construction temporarily to clear some of the unexploded ordnance.

Then there’s been opposition from affected villagers. In October 2016 they were prevented from speaking at public meetings held to promote the project, to oppose the railway. In January 2018, the Lao government revealed that a compensation law had been drafted for compulsory acquisitions related to all Laos infrastructure projects.

The Laos government, based in Vientiane, has also been facing difficulties in coming up with its share of capital for the project. In March 2018, the Deputy Minister of Public Works and Transport had to urgently request approval of a budget of 510 billion kip (1.8 billion Thai baht or US$60 million) for Laos’ 2018 contribution to the project.

In the long run, the line through Laos will have to connect with the Nong Khai–Bangkok high-speed railway in Thailand to make economic sense. But there are plenty more challenges ahead.

The planned extension of the railway line between Laos and Thailand at Thanaleng Station, 20 kilometres east of Vientiane was supposed to begin in late 2010 but was scrapped by the Lao authorities because they wanted to study in detail how the existing 1 metre gauge Laos–Thailand track could be joined to the 1.435 metre standard gauge China–Laos line. The extension only resumed in 2017, a delay of six years.

SOURCE: East Asia Forum | SCMP

Heading south at speed: The China–Laos railway | News by The Thaiger



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Laos

Minister orders investigation into head-on collision in Sa Kaew killing 11

May Taylor

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Minister orders investigation into head-on collision in Sa Kaew killing 11 | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Thai PBS World

Following a collision between an articulated truck and a passenger van killing 11 people and injured 4 yesterday morning, the Transport Minister is calling for an investigation. The accident happened in Sa Kaew province, about 200 kilometres east of Bangkok.

Thai PBS reports that the van driver was among those killed, crushed to death behind the steering wheel. While the GPS system showed he was not speeding, investigators speculate he may have fallen asleep at the wheel.

The crash totally destroyed the front of the van, although the truck was not badly damaged. The passengers were all from Laos, travelling to Bangkok from Svannakhet provice for visa renewals.

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob says unroadworthy vehicles account for 2.9% of accidents, with unfit drivers being the cause of 72%.

The minister said that the Land Transport department has been instructed to strictly enforce the law on the road worthiness of public transport vehicles and the fitness of drivers. Vehicles found to be unsuitable should not used and unfit drivers should have their licences revoked.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Laos

11 die in early morning passenger van collision in Sa Kaew

The Thaiger & The Nation

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11 die in early morning passenger van collision in Sa Kaew | The Thaiger

PHOTOS: The Nation

Eleven people have been killed and four others seriously injured after a chartered van carrying Lao workers collided with an 18 wheel truck in Sa Kaew province, east of Bangkok on the Cambodian border, early today (map below).

The Nation reports that they were travelling to the Chanthaburi immigration checkpoint to renew their visas.

Police suspect the Thai van driver, Sansern Sathongkhan, might have dozed off behind the wheel, and driven the passenger van into the opposite lane where it crashed head-on with the oncoming 18 wheel truck.

Police and rescue workers rushed to the scene at 4.15am on the Sakaew-Chanthaburi Road section of the highway near the entrance to the Wang Somboon District Office.

They found the dead bodies of the van driver and Lao passengers, many of whom were crushed in the wrecked van while others were flung out of the van with the force of the impact. Rescue workers were able to remove four seriously wounded people from the wreckage, including three Lao passengers and the truck driver, Subin Pengmoo, to rush them to the district hospital.

SOURCE: The Nation

11 die in early morning passenger van collision in Sa Kaew | News by The Thaiger

11 die in early morning passenger van collision in Sa Kaew | News by The Thaiger

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Cambodia

Dams, politics and greed are killing the mighty Mekong River

The Thaiger

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Dams, politics and greed are killing the mighty Mekong River | The Thaiger

Original story by Piyaporn Wongruang – The Nation | PHOTO: Sophie et Fred

Dr Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer and ecology expert at Maha Sarakham University, was at a loss when asked to describe the ongoing Mekong crisis.

“The most disastrous situation in history.”

Little is being done by governments despite recent stories and stark photos of the dried-bed of a major river that passes through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong River is the twelfth longest river in the world at 4,350 kilometres. It starts in the Chinese Himalayas and flows through six countries to its mouth in Vietnam and out into the South China Sea.

“We used the river as a political tool and an asset for economic development. Yet, we did not supervise its development, which has resulted in a real disaster. I don’t see any solutions because every government is only focusing on building dams, but not on the scars these development plans are leaving behind.”

China built the first Mekong dam in 1994, without consulting the Thai river communities downstream. A decade later, impacts from the dam finally kicked in, said Chainarong, who founded the Southeast Asia Rivers Network to track the effects of Mekong water resource management.

Thai communities impacted by dam operations were finally given a voice in development plans, which were being driven by international investment, especially from Thailand. However, as Thai protests grew, investors turned to neighbouring countries including Laos, which declared plans to become the “battery of Asia”.

Dams, politics and greed are killing the mighty Mekong River | News by The Thaiger

Drought takes Mekong River to its lowest in 100 years, threatening food supply – National Geographic

According to the independent International Rivers organisation, China has completed 11 dams on the upper Mekong since then. The biggest are the Xiaowan and Nuozhadu dams, whose 250-300 metre high dam walls hold back reservoirs of 40 billion cubic metres capacity. Of the 11 dams planned for the lower Mekong, at least three have entered production. Xayaburi Dam in Laos was being tested during July ready to go online in October. Don Sahong is under construction, and Pak Beng is at the pre-construction stage.

But completed dams are already having a dramatic impact. This month, Thais living downstream from the Jinghong Dam woke to find the river level had dropped sharply. No one had warned residents of Chiang Khan district on the Laos border that the dam was undergoing maintenance, dramatically reducing their access to water.

The people in the lower Mekong predict the unstable water level will decimate migratory fish stocks and impact food security in an area where local communities depend on river fish. Studies report that Mekong communities depend on river fish for up to 80 per cent of their daily protein consumption.

A study from the Australian National University states that Mekong Basin dwellers are struggling to find new protein resources as a substitute for the fish. It would take both massive water and land resources, especially in Cambodia, to create new protein substitutes.

Downstream, communities in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta decline are suffering coastal erosion and salination of their once-fertile land. Dams are threatening the country’s “breadbasket” as locals experience food shortages and are unable to access freshwater for daily needs.

Despite the expanding concerns, the Thai government has not launched serious measures to study, monitor, or prepare remedial plans for people suffering the impact of dams.

Niwat Roykaew, chairman of Rak Chiang Khong conservation group, said that the old [top-down] way of working would not solve any problems, adding that he believed in the power of local people more than the government.

“It’s too late to say no to dam building. We have to find a way to live together, find a middle way between the engineering perspective and the human interest.”

Read the original article HERE.

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