Laos

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PAGE LAST UPDATED ON NOVEMBER 10, 2011
Flag of Laos
(CONTAINS DESCRIPTION)
Location of Laos
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Map of Laos
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Photos of Laos
 
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OF LAOS
 

Introduction

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Modern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th Century under King FA NGUM. For 300 years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual, limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1988. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997.
 
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Geography

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Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam
 
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18 00 N, 105 00 E
 
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total: 236,800 sq km
country comparison to the world: 84
land: 230,800 sq km
water: 6,000 sq km
 
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slightly larger than Utah
 
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total: 5,083 km
border countries: Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423 km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km
 
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0 km (landlocked)
 
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none (landlocked)
 
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tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)
 
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mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus
 
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lowest point: Mekong River 70 m
highest point: Phu Bia 2,817 m
 
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timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones
 
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arable land: 4.01%
permanent crops: 0.34%
other: 95.65% (2005)
 
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3,000 sq km (2008)
 
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333.6 cu km (2003)
 
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total: 3 cu km/yr (4%/6%/90%)
per capita: 507 cu m/yr (2000)
 
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floods, droughts
 
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unexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; most of the population does not have access to potable water
 
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party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
 
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landlocked; most of the country is mountainous and thickly forested; the Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand
 
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People and Society

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noun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s)
adjective: Lao or Laotian
 
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Lao 55%, Khmou 11%, Hmong 8%, other (over 100 minor ethnic groups) 26% (2005 census)
 
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Lao (official), French, English, various ethnic languages
 
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Buddhist 67%, Christian 1.5%, other and unspecified 31.5% (2005 census)
 
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6,477,211 (July 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 104
 
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0-14 years: 36.7% (male 1,197,579/female 1,181,523)
15-64 years: 59.6% (male 1,908,176/female 1,950,544)
65 years and over: 3.7% (male 107,876/female 131,513) (2011 est.)
 
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total: 21 years
male: 20.7 years
female: 21.3 years (2011 est.)
 
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1.684% (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 68
 
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26.13 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 55
 
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8.13 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 98
 
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-1.16 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 155
 
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urban population: 33% of total population (2010)
rate of urbanization: 4.9% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)
 
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VIENTIANE (capital) 799,000 (2009)
 
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at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.75 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2011 est.)
 
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580 deaths/100,000 live births (2008)
country comparison to the world: 20
 
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total: 59.46 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 36
male: 65.49 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 53.18 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 est.)
 
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total population: 62.39 years
country comparison to the world: 180
male: 60.5 years
female: 64.36 years (2011 est.)
 
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3.14 children born/woman (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 56
 
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6.5% of GDP (2009)
country comparison to the world: 92
 
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0.272 physicians/1,000 population (2005)
country comparison to the world: 144
 
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1.2 beds/1,000 population (2005)
country comparison to the world: 137
 
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improved:
urban: 72% of population
rural: 51% of population
total: 57% of population
unimproved:
urban: 28% of population
rural: 49% of population
total: 43% of population (2008)
 
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improved:
urban: 86% of population
rural: 38% of population
total: 53% of population
unimproved:
urban: 14% of population
rural: 62% of population
total: 47% of population (2008)
 
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0.2% (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 107
 
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8,500 (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 106
 
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fewer than 200 (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 111
 
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degree of risk: very high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever and malaria
note: highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has been identified in this country; it poses a negligible risk with extremely rare cases possible among US citizens who have close contact with birds (2008) (2009)
 
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1.2% (2000)
country comparison to the world: 69
 
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31.6% (2006)
country comparison to the world: 16
 
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2.3% of GDP (2008)
country comparison to the world: 150
 
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definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 73%
male: 83%
female: 63% (2005 Census)
 
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total: 9 years
male: 10 years
female: 9 years (2008)
 
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Government

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conventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic
conventional short form: Laos
local long form: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
local short form: Pathet Lao (unofficial)
 
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Communist state
 
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name: Vientiane (Viangchan)
geographic coordinates: 17 58 N, 102 36 E
time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
 
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16 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural) and 1 capital city* (nakhon luang, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamxai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louangnamtha, Louangphrabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali, Salavan, Savannakhet, Viangchan (Vientiane)*, Viangchan, Xaignabouli, Xekong, Xiangkhoang
 
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19 July 1949 (from France)
 
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Republic Day, 2 December (1975)
 
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promulgated 14 August 1991; amended in 2003
 
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civil law system similar in form to the French system
 
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has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt
 
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18 years of age; universal
 
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chief of state: President Lt. Gen. CHOUMMALI Saignason (since 8 June 2006); Vice President BOUN-GNANG Volachit (since 8 June 2006)
head of government: Prime Minister THONGSING Thammavong (since 24 December 2010); First Deputy Prime Minister Maj. Gen. ASANG Laoli (since May 2002), Prime Ministers Maj. Gen. DOUANGCHAI Phichit (since 8 June 2006), SOMSAVAT Lengsavat (since 26 February 1998), and THONGLOUN Sisoulit (since 27 March 2001)
cabinet: Ministers appointed by president, approved by National Assembly
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elections: president and vice president elected by National Assembly for five-year terms; election last held on 8 June 2006 (next to be held in 2011); prime minister nominated by the president and elected by the National Assembly for five-year term
election results: CHOUMMALI Saignason elected president; BOUN-GNANG Volachit elected vice president; percent of National Assembly vote - 100%; BOUASONE Bouphavanh elected prime minister; percent of National Assembly vote - 97%
 
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unicameral National Assembly (132 seats; members elected by popular vote from a list of candidates selected by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party to serve five-year terms)
elections: last held on 30 April 2011 (next to be held in 2016)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - LPRP 128, independents 4
 
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People's Supreme Court, People's Provincial and Municipal Courts, People's District Courts, and Military Courts
note: the president of the People's Supreme Court is elected by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the National Assembly Standing Committee; the vice president of the People's Supreme Court and the judges are appointed by the National Assembly Standing Committee
 
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Lao People's Revolutionary Party or LPRP [CHOUMMALI Saignason]; other parties proscribed
 
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NA
 
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ADB, ARF, ASEAN, CP, EAS, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, IPU, ISO (subscriber), ITU, MIGA, NAM, OIF, OPCW, PCA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO (observer)
 
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chief of mission: Ambassador SENG Soukhathivong
chancery: 2222 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 332-6416
FAX: [1] (202) 332-4923
 
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chief of mission: Ambassador Karen B. STEWART
embassy: 19 Rue Bartholonie, That Dam, Vientiane
mailing address: American Embassy Vientiane, APO AP 96546
telephone: [856] 21-26-7000
FAX: [856] 21-26-7190
 
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three horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band; the red bands recall the blood shed for liberation; the blue band represents the Mekong River and prosperity; the white disk symbolizes the full moon against the Mekong River, but also signifies the unity of the people under the Pathet Lao, as well as the country's bright future
 
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elephant
 
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name: "Pheng Xat Lao" (Hymn of the Lao People)
lyrics/music: SISANA Sisane/THONGDY Sounthonevichit
note: music adopted 1945, lyrics adopted 1975; the anthem's lyrics were changed following the 1975 Communist revolution that overthrew the monarchy
 
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Economy

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The government of Laos, one of the few remaining one-party Communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 6% per year from 1988-2008 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with an underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. It has a rudimentary, but improving, road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. China has signed a deal with the Lao to build a high speed rail system in the country. Construction on the $7 billion project is slated to begin in April 2011 and will take five years. Electricity is available in urban areas and in many rural districts. Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice cultivation in lowland areas, accounts for about 30% of GDP and 75% of total employment. The government in FY09/10 received $586 million from international donors. Economic growth has reduced official poverty rates from 46% in 1992 to 26% in 2010. The economy has benefited from high foreign investment in hydropower, mining, and construction. Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US in 2004, and is taking steps required to join the World Trade Organization, such as reforming import licensing. Related trade policy reforms will improve the business environment. On the fiscal side, Laos initiated a VAT tax system in 2010. Simplified investment procedures and expanded bank credits for small farmers and small entrepreneurs will improve Lao's economic prospects. The government appears committed to raising the country's profile among investors. The World Bank has declared that Laos's goal of graduating from the UN Development Program's list of least-developed countries by 2020 is achievable. According Laotian officials, the 7th Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2011-15 will outline efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goals.
 
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$15.69 billion (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 135
$14.56 billion (2009 est.)
$13.54 billion (2008 est.)
note: data are in 2010 US dollars
 
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$6.341 billion (2010 est.)
 
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7.7% (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 23
7.6% (2009 est.)
7.8% (2008 est.)
 
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$2,500 (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 176
$2,300 (2009 est.)
$2,200 (2008 est.)
note: data are in 2010 US dollars
 
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agriculture: 29.2%
industry: 32.4%
services: 38.3% (2010 est.)
 
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3.69 million (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 92
 
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agriculture: 75.1%
industry and services: NA (2010 est.)
 
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2.5% (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 21
2.4% (2005 est.)
 
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26% (2010 est.)
 
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lowest 10%: 3.3%
highest 10%: 30.3% (2008)
 
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36.7 (2008)
country comparison to the world: 84
34.6 (2002)
 
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revenues: $1.136 billion
expenditures: $1.338 billion (2010 est.)
 
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17.9% of GDP (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 171
 
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-3.2% of GDP (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 101
 
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5.7% (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 160
0% (2009 est.)
 
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4.3% (31 December 2010)
country comparison to the world: 92
4% (31 December 2009)
 
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22.613% (31 December 2010)
country comparison to the world: 12
24.775% (31 December 2009 est.)
 
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$787.9 million (31 December 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 148
$564.6 million (31 December 2009 est.)
 
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$2.643 billion (31 December 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 138
$1.805 billion (31 December 2009 est.)
 
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$1.95 billion (31 December 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 132
$1.22 billion (31 December 2009 est.)
 
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sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, tea, peanuts, rice; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry
 
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copper, tin, gold, and gypsum mining; timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments, cement, tourism
 
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17.7% (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 6
 
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1.553 billion kWh (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 141
 
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2.23 billion kWh (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 135
 
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341 million kWh (2010 est.)
 
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999 million kWh (2010 est.)
 
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0 bbl/day (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 167
 
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3,000 bbl/day (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 183
 
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0 bbl/day (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 186
 
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1,918 bbl/day (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 180
 
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0 bbl (1 January 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 152
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 150
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 197
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 129
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 86
 
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0 cu m (1 January 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 155
 
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-$195 million (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 85
$9.3 million (2009 est.)
 
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$1.474 billion (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 143
$1.053 billion (2009 est.)
 
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wood products, coffee, electricity, tin, copper, gold
 
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Thailand 31.1%, China 23%, Vietnam 12.9% (2010)
 
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$2.06 billion (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 153
$1.461 billion (2009 est.)
 
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machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, consumer goods
 
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Thailand 65.6%, China 14.6%, Vietnam 6.6% (2010)
 
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$713.4 million (31 December 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 144
$618.6 million (31 December 2009 est.)
 
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$4.635 billion (31 December 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 115
$4.721 billion (31 December 2009 est.)
 
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kips (LAK) per US dollar -
8,320.27 (2010)
8,516.04 (2009)
8,760.69 (2008)
9,658 (2007)
10,235 (2006)
 
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Communications

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103,100 (2010)
country comparison to the world: 146
 
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4.003 million (2010)
country comparison to the world: 109
 
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general assessment: service to general public is poor but improving; the government relies on a radiotelephone network to communicate with remote areas
domestic: multiple service providers; mobile cellular usage growing very rapidly
international: country code - 856; satellite earth station - 1 Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region) and a second to be developed by China (2008)
 
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2 television stations operating out of Vientiane - 1 government-operated and the other jointly-owned by the government and a Thai company; roughly 15 provincial stations operating with nearly all programming relayed via satellite from the government-operated station in Vientiane; relays from Hanoi provide access to a Vietnamese television station; broadcasts available from stations in Thailand and Vietnam in border areas; multi-channel satellite and cable TV systems provide access to a wide range of foreign stations; state-controlled radio with state-operated Lao National Radio (LNR) broadcasting on 5 frequencies - 1 AM, 2 SW, and 2 FM; LNR's AM and FM programs are relayed via satellite constituting a large part of the programming schedules of the provincial radio stations; Thai radio broadcasts available in border areas and transmissions of multiple international broadcasters are also accessible (2008)
 
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.la
 
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1,468 (2010)
country comparison to the world: 161
 
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300,000 (2009)
country comparison to the world: 130
 
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Transportation

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41 (2010)
country comparison to the world: 104
 
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total: 9
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 4
914 to 1,523 m: 3 (2010)
 
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total: 32
1,524 to 2,437 m: 2
914 to 1,523 m: 9
under 914 m: 21 (2010)
 
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refined products 540 km (2010)
 
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total: 39,568 km
country comparison to the world: 91
paved: 530 km
unpaved: 39,038 km (2009)
 
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4,600 km (primarily on the Mekong River and its tributaries; 2,900 additional km are intermittently navigable by craft drawing less than 0.5 m) (2010)
country comparison to the world: 24
 
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total: 1
country comparison to the world: 157
by type: cargo 1 (2008)
 
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Military

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Lao People's Armed Forces (LPAF): Lao People's Army (LPA; includes Riverine Force), Air Force (2011)
 
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18 years of age for compulsory military service; minimum 18-month service obligation (2010)
 
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males age 16-49: 1,574,362
females age 16-49: 1,607,856 (2010 est.)
 
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males age 16-49: 1,111,629
females age 16-49: 1,190,035 (2010 est.)
 
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male: 71,400
female: 73,038 (2010 est.)
 
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0.5% of GDP (2006)
country comparison to the world: 160
 
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serving one of the world's least developed countries, the Lao People's Armed Forces (LPAF) is small, poorly funded, and ineffectively resourced; its mission focus is border and internal security, primarily in countering ethnic Hmong insurgent groups; together with the Lao People's Revolutionary Party and the government, the Lao People's Army (LPA) is the third pillar of state machinery, and as such is expected to suppress political and civil unrest and similar national emergencies, but the LPA also has upgraded skills to respond to avian influenza outbreaks; there is no perceived external threat to the state and the LPA maintains strong ties with the neighboring Vietnamese military (2008)
 
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Transnational Issues

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Southeast Asian states have enhanced border surveillance to check the spread of avian flu; talks continue on completion of demarcation with Thailand but disputes remain over islands in the Mekong River; concern among Mekong Commission members that China's construction of dams on the Mekong River will affect water levels; Cambodia is concerned about Laos' extensive upstream dam construction
 
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estimated opium poppy cultivation in 2008 was 1,900 hectares, about a 73% increase from 2007; estimated potential opium production in 2008 more than tripled to 17 metric tons; unsubstantiated reports of domestic methamphetamine production; growing domestic methamphetamine problem (2007)
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