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In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government, ending a six-century-old monarchy. Initial closer ties to Vietnam and socialization were replaced with a gradual return to private enterprise, a liberalization of foreign investment laws, and the admission into ASEAN in 1997.
Geography Laos
Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam
Geographic coordinates:
18 00 N, 105 00 E
Map references:
Southeast Asia
total: 236,800 sq km
water: 6,000 sq km
land: 230,800 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly larger than Utah
Land boundaries:
total: 5,083 km
border countries: Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423 km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km
0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims - as described in UNCLOS 1982 (see Notes and Definitions):
none (landlocked)
tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)
mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Mekong River 70 m
highest point: Phou Bia 2,817 m
Natural resources:
timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones
Land use:
arable land: 3.47%
permanent crops: 0.23%
other: 96.3% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land:
1,640 sq km
note: rainy season irrigation - 2,169 sq km; dry season irrigation - 750 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards:
floods, droughts
Environment - current issues:
unexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; most of the population does not have access to potable water
Environment - international agreements:
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
Geography - note:
landlocked; most of the country is mountainous and thickly forested; the Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand
People Laos
6,068,117 (July 2004 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 41.9% (male 1,277,152; female 1,265,761)
15-64 years: 54.9% (male 1,642,895; female 1,688,175)
65 years and over: 3.2% (male 87,995; female 106,139) (2004 est.)
Median age:
total: 18.6 years
male: 18.3 years
female: 19 years (2004 est.)
Population growth rate:
2.44% (2004 est.)
Birth rate:
36.47 births/1,000 population (2004 est.)
Death rate:
12.1 deaths/1,000 population (2004 est.)
Net migration rate:
0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2004 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.83 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2004 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 87.06 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 76.69 deaths/1,000 live births (2004 est.)
male: 97.05 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 54.69 years
male: 52.71 years
female: 56.75 years (2004 est.)
Total fertility rate:
4.86 children born/woman (2004 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
less than 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
1,400 (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
less than 150 (2001 est.)
noun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s)
adjective: Lao or Laotian
Ethnic groups:
Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong and the Yao 9%, ethnic Vietnamese/Chinese 1%
Buddhist 60%, animist and other 40% (including various Christian denominations 1.5%)
Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 52.8%
male: 67.5%
female: 38.1% (2003 est.)
Government Laos
Country name:
conventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic
conventional short form: Laos
local short form: none
local long form: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
Government type:
Communist state
Administrative divisions:
16 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural), 1 municipality* (kampheng nakhon, singular and plural), and 1 special zone** (khetphiset, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamxai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louangnamtha, Louangphabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali, Salavan, Savannakhet, Viangchan*, Viangchan, Xaignabouli, Xaisomboun**, Xekong, Xiangkhoang
19 July 1949 (from France)
National holiday:
Republic Day, 2 December (1975)
promulgated 14 August 1991
Legal system:
based on traditional customs, French legal norms and procedures, and socialist practice
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Gen. KHAMTAI Siphandon (since 26 February 1998) and Vice President Lt. Gen. CHOUMMALI Saignason (since 27 March 2001)
head of government: Prime Minister BOUNGNANG Volachit (since 27 March 2001); First Deputy Prime Minister Maj. Gen. ASANG Laoli (since May 2002), Deputy Prime Minister THONGLOUN Sisolit (since 27 March 2001), and Deputy Prime Minister SOMSAVAT Lengsavat (since 26 February 1998)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president, approved by the National Assembly
elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term; election last held 24 February 2002 (next to be held in 2007); prime minister appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly for a five-year term
election results: KHAMTAI Siphandon elected president; percent of National Assembly vote - NA%
Legislative branch:
unicameral National Assembly (109 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms; note - total number of seats increased from 99 to 109 for the 2002 election)
elections: last held 24 February 2002 (next to be held in 2007)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - LPRP or LPRP-approved (independent, non-party members) 109
Judicial branch:
People's Supreme Court (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)
Political parties and leaders:
Lao People's Revolutionary Party or LPRP [KHAMTAI Siphandon, party president]; other parties proscribed
Political pressure groups and leaders:
noncommunist political groups proscribed; most opposition leaders fled the country in 1975
International organization participation:
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador PHANTHONG Phommahaxay
FAX: [1] (202) 332-4923
telephone: [1] (202) 332-6416
chancery: 2222 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Douglas A. HARTWICK
embassy: 19 Rue Bartholonie, B. P. 114, Vientiane
mailing address: American Embassy, Box V, APO AP 96546
telephone: [856] (21) 212581, 212582, 212585
FAX: [856] (21) 212584
Flag description:
three horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band
Economy Laos
Economy - overview:
The government of Laos - one of the few remaining official Communist states - began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 7% in 1988-2001 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with a primitive infrastructure; it has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. Electricity is available in only a few urban areas. Subsistence agriculture accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The economy will continue to benefit from aid from the IMF and other international sources and from new foreign investment in food processing and mining.
purchasing power parity - $10.34 billion (2003 est.)
GDP - real growth rate:
5.7% (2003 est.)
GDP - per capita:
purchasing power parity - $1,700 (2003 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 53%
industry: 23%
services: 24% (2001 est.)
Population below poverty line:
40% (2002 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 3.2%
highest 10%: 30.6% (1997)
Distribution of family income - Gini index:
37 (1997)
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
7.8% (2001 est.)
Labor force:
2.6 million (2001 est.)
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture 80% (1997 est.)
Unemployment rate:
5.7% (1997 est.)
revenues: $211 million
expenditures: $462 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (FY98/99 est.)
tin and gypsum mining, timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments, tourism
Industrial production growth rate:
9.7% (2001 est.)
Electricity - production:
1.317 billion kWh (2001)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel: 1.4%
hydro: 98.6%
other: 0% (2001)
nuclear: 0%
Electricity - consumption:
824.8 million kWh (2001)
Electricity - exports:
400 million kWh (2001)
Electricity - imports:
0 kWh (2001)
Oil - production:
0 bbl/day (2001 est.)
Oil - consumption:
2,750 bbl/day (2001 est.)
Oil - exports:
Oil - imports:
Agriculture - products:
sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, tea, peanuts, rice, water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry
$332 million (2003 est.)
Exports - commodities:
garments, wood products, coffee, electricity, tin
Exports - partners:
Thailand 21.5%, Vietnam 16.9%, France 8.6%, Germany 5.6% (2002)
$492 million f.o.b. (2003 est.)
Imports - commodities:
machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, consumer goods
Imports - partners:
Thailand 60.7%, Vietnam 10.5%, China 8.2%, Singapore 4% (2002)
Debt - external:
$2.49 billion (2001)
Economic aid - recipient:
$243 million (2001 est.)
kip (LAK)
Currency code:
Exchange rates:
kips per US dollar - 10,443 (2003), 10,056.3 (2002), 8,954.58 (2001), 7,887.64 (2000), 7,102.02 (1999)
Fiscal year:
1 October - 30 September
Communications Laos
Telephones - main lines in use:
61,900 (2002)
Telephones - mobile cellular:
55,200 (2002)
Telephone system:
general assessment: service to general public is poor but improving with over 20,000 telephones currently in service and an additional 48,000 expected by 2001; the government relies on a radiotelephone network to communicate with remote areas
domestic: radiotelephone communications
international: country code - 856; satellite earth station - 1 Intersputnik (Indian Ocean region)
Radio broadcast stations:
AM 12, FM 1, shortwave 4 (1998)
730,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations:
4 (1999)
52,000 (1997)
Internet country code:
Internet hosts:
281 (2002)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
1 (2000)
Internet users:
15,000 (2002)
Transportation Laos
0 km
total: 21,716 km
paved: 9,664 km
unpaved: 12,052 km (1999 est.)
4,587 km approximately
note: primarily Mekong and tributaries; 2,897 additional km are intermittently navigable by craft drawing less than 0.5 m
refined products 540 km (2003)
Ports and harbors:
Merchant marine:
total: 1 ships (1,000 GRT or over) 2,370 GRT/3,110 DWT
by type: cargo 1 (2003 est.)
46 (2003 est.)
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 9
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 5
914 to 1,523 m: 3 (2003 est.)
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 37
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 13
under 914 m: 23 (2003 est.)
Military Laos
Military branches:
Lao People's Army (LPA; including Riverine Force), Air Force
Military manpower - military age:
18 years of age (2004 est.)
Military manpower - availability:
males age 15-49: 1,456,500 (2004 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service:
males age 15-49: 783,800 (2004 est.)
Military manpower - reaching military age annually:
males: 68,563 (2004 est.)
Military expenditures - dollar figure:
$10.9 million (2003)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP:
0.5% (2003)
Transnational Issues Laos
Disputes - international:
demarcation of boundaries with Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam is largely complete, but with Thailand several areas including Mekong River islets remain in dispute; ongoing disputes with Thailand and Vietnam over squatters
Illicit drugs:
world's third-largest illicit opium producer (estimated cultivation in 2002 - 23,200 hectares, a 5% increase over 2001; estimated potential production in 2002 - 180 metric tons, a 10% decrease from 2001); potential heroin producer; transshipment point for heroin and methamphetamine produced in Burma; illicit producer of cannabis; growing methamphetamine abuse problem