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Lao People's Democratic Republic

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The Prime Minister’s Office is responsible for:

  • The Water Resources Coordination Committee (WRCC), which provides advice to the government on matters related to water resources. It coordinates the planning, management, follow-up, inspection and protection of water resources for their sustainable development and utilization in line with the government policy of socio-economic development. It was established in 1997.
  • The Lao National Mekong Committee (LNMC), which formulates policy, strategic plans, projects and programmes related to water resources development in the Mekong Basin to protect the environment, ecological balance, and to ensure community participation and development, cooperation with other Mekong riparian countries, other countries and donors.
  • The Science, Technology and Environment Agency (STEA), which monitors and inspects environmental parameters, such as: water, soil, air, radiation, noise, colour, etc. concerning development activities for adherence to environmental standards.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is responsible for:

  • The Integrated Watershed Management Unit (IWMU), which assists MAF in watershed management and rural development planning on a subwatershed (sub-basin) area.
  • The Department of Irrigation (DoI), which carries out the testing and analyses of water quality based on MRC standard, and develops irrigated agriculture and drainage, flooding and drought prevention plans.

The Ministry of Industry and Handicraft is responsible for:

  • The Industrial Environment Division (IED), which is responsible for industrial environment management, occupational health and safety, industrial waste, mineral resource management, hydropower and regulations to protect and control pollution from industrial factories (wastewater, smoke, odour, radiation, vibration, noise, etc.).

The Ministry of Communication, Transportation, Post and Construction is responsible for:

  • The Waterway Administration Division (WAD), which is responsible for data collection (water quality sampling at some hydrological stations such as Luangphrabang, Savannakhet and Pakse), then forwarding it to Water Quality Laboratory, Irrigation Survey Design Center under Department of Irrigation, MAF.
  • The Water Supply Authority (WASA), mainly develops regulations concerning urban water supply, and provides technical assistance to water supply operations for the whole country.

The Ministry of Public Health is responsible for:

  • The National Center for Environment Health and Water Supply (NCEHWS), which regulates control of solid waste and waste water; defines disposal methods for solid and liquid waste, and supplies water and sanitation services to non-urban locations.
  • The Food Management Division (FMD), which sets and monitors standards for drinking water supplies.

Water management

In 1984, about 23 percent of the cultivated area was managed by cooperatives. However, following the New Economic Mechanism implemented in 1986, the cooperatives were dissolved, and all the cultivated area is now privately managed.

The government’s long-term objective for domestic water supply is to provide 80 percent coverage to the population by 2015. Although each province has benefited from an urban water supply programme financed by international aid (from Japan, Germany, ADB, WB and EU), rural water supply programmes have not been numerous.

The Water and Water Resources Law states that water and water resources are the property of the national community, which the State represents in managing as well as thoroughly and reasonably allocating its use to various parties. Individuals, juristic entities, or organizations shall have the right to control and use any natural water and water resource in any activity only so long as they have received approval from relevant authorised agencies, except in the case of small-scale use as provided by this Law. The management instrument of the Water and Water Resources Law is the National Water Sector Strategy and Action Plan.

During the 1990s, the Government recognized the problems facing the country, and the strategy in the irrigation sector was redefined. The water law is based on:

  • Improving the planning of new irrigation projects so that they are based on the needs of farmers and driven and managed by them. Water user groups (WUGs) are being set up, and the water law should provide a legal framework for these associations. The objectives of DoI are: (i) to develop irrigation for all lowland rice fields in the wet season as long as farmers are interested and group themselves into WUGs; (ii) to develop dry season irrigation.
  • Making the existing schemes economically viable and self-sustaining, by: (i) helping farmers to establish WUGs; (ii) training farmers in irrigation management; (iii) encouraging farmers to introduce operation and maintenance cost recovery systems; (iv) developing marketing infrastructure.

Being a least-developed country rich in water resources, the most important challenges for WRCC in carrying out its coordinating role include: (1) strengthening of the legal framework for an effective and harmonious integration of water resources management, development and protection activities into the socio-economic development process, in particular to meet national priorities; (2) to enhance and consolidate the existing systems and foundation to operate, maintain and rehabilitate facilities safely, reliably and efficiently to protect the investment for public benefits; (3) to prioritize the capacity-building needs so as to enhance organizational capacity and effectiveness of the water resources coordination system (WEPA, 2010).

The objectives written in the Master Plan for integrated agricultural development are: to formulate an action plan and an implementation programme that contribute to more effective agricultural development promotion, based on the strategic vision framework in the agricultural development strategy and vision 2020; and to identify priority programmes and projects. ‘Towards the Year 2020’, an integrated agricultural development action plan, covers ten subsectors: land and water resources development, institution and organization, human resources development, field crop, livestock and fisheries, stabilising shifting cultivation, marketing and agro-processing, rural finance, rural development, and irrigation.


Under the New Economic Mechanism, formulated in the 1990s, policy for irrigated agriculture emphasizes the role of markets and prices as allocation mechanisms and a shift to cost recovery for services and facilities provided by government to farmers. Electricity and operating costs have been paid directly by farmers since 1992. Secondary and tertiary canals are the responsibility of farmers for all maintenance matters. Until 1994, the Irrigation Department was responsible for the operation and maintenance of weirs, dams, pumps and primary canals, after which it was supposed to be handed over to WUGs or WUAs. However, in many cases, operation and maintenance are still carried out by the Irrigation Department or its provincial services. A pragmatic approach has been adopted for a transitional period, where the establishment of WUGs is encouraged and farmers are trained in irrigation management, irrigation scheduling, and operation and maintenance. It is expected that, eventually, each WUG will be able to define the water charge needed to sustain the irrigation scheme.

Policies and legislation

In 1996, the Water and Water Resources Law was enacted and implemented. It determines necessary principles, rules, and measures relative to the administration, exploitation, use and development of water and water resources to preserve sustainable water and water resources and to ensure volume and quality providing for people’s living requirements, promoting agriculture, forestry, and industry, developing the national social-economy and ensuring that no damage is caused to the environment (WEPA, 2010).

In 2001, a Decree was enacted on the Implementation of the Water and Water Resources Law to implement the Law on Water and Water Resources and to establish the responsibilities of different ministries, agencies and local authorities regarding the management, exploitation, development and use of water and water resources. The Decree also ensures efficient development and use, conformity with the socio-economic development planning, an increase in production, an improvement of the living conditions of the people and sustainable use of water resources.


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