Laos’ Natural Resources Are Rapidly Disappearing

A perfect storm of widespread poverty, corrupt and inefficient communist leadership, and international indifference has made the Southeast Asian nation of Laos a virtual case study in environmental decline. Although it is one of the world’s poorest and least developed nations, Laos is rich with natural resources, which represent an almost-irresistible source of short-term profit. Profligate logging has reduced forest cover from 70 percent in the mid-20th century to less than 40 percent today, and illegal wildlife trade with China is booming. Although Laos has a network of protected areas covering 14 percent of the country, critics call them “paper parks” whose defense is woefully underfunded, making them easy targets for loggers and poachers. There is little local expertise or interest in environmental issues to slow the decline. Says Latsamay Sylavong of the World Conservation Union, “Suddenly income-earning opportunities, like wildlife sale and logging, come to people’s doorsteps and most can’t resist them. They don’t think about the future.”