Forecasts aretricky – especiallyregarding thefuture!
Forecasts can easily be de-stroyed by political eruptionsor nervous financial reac-tions. Still some signs are toostrong to be eliminated inthat way.Asia is gaining momen-tum again, and it meanschanges for all of us. Asia hasten times as many inhabit-ants as Europe or NorthAmerica. This area movesvery fast, especially somelarge countries like China.China trade import/export in2000 grew some 35% rela-tive to the year before. Sizeand speed are starting toimpact world scale economyand ecology. Japan and Ko-rea led the way some yearsearlier, and from my ice-bearpoint of view it’s time torealise that the world’s pointof gravity is moving east!At the same time theneed for transportation willgrow, and since most worldinhabitants live along shoresand inland waterways itmeans business for us. It is achallenge to find ever moreefficient marine transporta-tion concepts focusing oneconomy, ecology and cus-tomer satisfaction – provid-ing appropriate technology.
SSPA’s staff is used to travel, being a consultant meansthat you work where the client asks you to work. Al-though our business is related to marine engineeringand marine transportation in a very general sense it stillusually implies that our clients have some close relationto the sea. In a recently completed project, however,the mission took our consultant to a remote mountainarea in a landlocked country in the Far East - to Laos.This is the story why.
Laos or Lao Peoples Democratic Republic which is theformal name, is a landlocked country between Thailandand Vietnam. It also shares it borders with Cambodia,Myanmar/Burma and China. Compared to its over-popu-lated neighbours Lao has only about 5 million inhabitantson an area almost equivalent to half the area of Spain. It isalso an ancient civilised country which in the 20
centuryhas suffered from occupation, civil wars and politicalpressures with the result that Laos today is one of theleast developed countries in south east Asia. A sparselypopulated country with large mountain areas, no rail-roads, no open sea connections and only limited air fields.A country which has to rely on the roads for transportand communication.
Build-up of infrastructure
To improve the infrastructure Laos has also receivedsignificant support from various countries. The new air-port in the capital Vientiane was built by Japan, Thailand isplanning a railroad connection over the Mekong river, theEuropean Union supports irrigation projects and severalcountries like the USA, China and Sweden support differ-ent road construction projects.Sweden through Sida (Swedish International Devel-opment Cooperation Agency) and their project manag-ers, HIFAB International, has in co-operation with theWorld Bank taken the approach to support national andregional road administrations in Laos with advisors in roadmaintenance projects. Two of these road advisors hadindependently a similar problem – how to establish areliable road connection across a river without building abridge.
The ferry in Muong Khoa
ational highway #2 in Phongsaly province.
uring the rain season landslides are frequent along highway #2 causing severe interruptions. 4WD cars are imperative despite the national road status.
Solving the problem in Muong Khoa
Laos’ national road #2 starts in Pak Beng close to theThai border, passes through the regional centre Ou-dumxai and continues through the northernmost prov-ince Phongsaly to the Vietnamese border and the cityDien Bien Phu. Since the road is one of only a limitednumber of roads crossing the mountain ridge betweenVietnam and Laos, it is of great importance not only forthe communication between the two countries but alsofor the possibility of opening up business connections,trade markets and provide communication to peoplewho have lived in a very isolated community.In the village of Muong Khoa in Phongsaly provincethe road crosses the Nam Ou river, a major tributary tothe Mekong. Originally there was a cable ferry connectionin Muong Khoa, but during a severe flooding in 1994,when the water rose about 20 m above normal levels,the cable was torn apart. Since then the ferry connectionis maintained using a small tugboat, which pushes theferry barge across the river. The main disadvantage withthis system is that the tugboat cannot operate during therainy season, when the river is too strong. As the rainyseason lasts for about 5 months (June – October) thismeans that no trucks or cars can traffic the road beyondMuong Khoa for almost half a year.