The World Factbook (1990)/Laos


World Factbook (1990) Laos.jpg

 See regional map IX


Total area: 236,800 km²; land area: 230,800 km²

Comparative area: slightly larger than Utah

Land boundaries: 5,083 km total; Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423 km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km

Coastline: none—landlocked

Maritime claims: none—landlocked

Disputes: boundary dispute with Thailand

Climate: tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)

Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus

Natural resources: timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones

Land use: 4% arable land; NEGL% permanent crops; 3% meadows and pastures; 58% forest and woodland; 35% other; includes 1% irrigated

Environment: deforestation; soil erosion; subject to floods

Note: landlocked


Population: 4,023,726 (July 1990), growth rate 2.2% (1990)

Birth rate: 37 births/1,000 population (1990)

Death rate: 15 deaths/1,000 population (1990)

Net migration rate: migrants/1,000 population (1990)

Infant mortality rate: 126 deaths/1,000 live births (1990)

Life expectancy at birth: 48 years male, 51 years female (1990)

Total fertility rate: 5.1 children born/woman (1990)

Nationality: noun—Lao (sing., Lao or Laotian); adjective—Lao or Laotian

Ethnic divisions: 50% Lao, 15% Phoutheung (Kha), 20% tribal Thai, 15% Meo, Hmong, Yao, and other

Religion: 85% Buddhist, 15% animist and other

Language: Lao (official), French, and English

Literacy: 85%

Labor force: 1-1.5 million; 85-90% in agriculture (est.)

Organized labor: Lao Federation of Trade Unions is subordinate to the Communist party


Long-form name: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Type: Communist state

Capital: Vientiane

Administrative divisions: 16 provinces (khouèng, singular and plural) and 1 municipality* (kampheng nakhon, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamsai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louang Namtha, Louangphrabang, Oudômxai, Phôngsali, Saravan, Savannakhét, Sekong, Vientiane, Vientiane*, Xaignabouri, Xiangkhoang

Independence: 19 July 1949 (from France)

Constitution: draft constitution under discussion since 1976

Legal system: based on civil law system; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

National holiday: National Day (proclamation of the Lao People's Democratic Republic), 2 December (1975)

Executive branch: president, chairman and five vice chairmen of the Council of Ministers, Council of Ministers (cabinet)

Legislative branch: Supreme People's Assembly

Judicial branch: Central Supreme Court

Leaders: Chief of State—Acting President PHOUMI VONGVICHIT (since 29 October 1986);

Head of Government—Chairman of the Council of Ministers General KAYSONE PHOMVIHAN (since 2 December 1975)

Political parties and leaders: Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP), Kaysone Phomvihan, party chairman; includes Lao Patriotic Front and Alliance Committee of Patriotic Neutralist Forces; other parties moribund

Suffrage: universal at age 18

Elections: Supreme People's Assembly—last held on 26 March 1989 (next to be held NA); results—percent of vote by party NA; seats—(79 total) number of seats by party NA

Other political or pressure groups: non-Communist political groups moribund; most leaders have fled the country


Diplomatic representation: First Secretary, Chargé d'Affaires ad interim DONE SOMVORACHIT; Chancery at 2222 S Street NW, Washington DC 20008; telephone (202) 332-6416 or 6417; US—Chargé d'Affaires Charles B. SALMON; Embassy at Rue Bartholonie, Vientiane (mailing address is B. P. 114, Vientiane, or Box V, APO San Francisco 96346); telephone 2220, 2357, 2384

Flag: three horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band


Overview: One of the world's poorest nations, Laos has had a Communist centrally planned economy with government ownership and control of productive enterprises of any size. Recently, however, the government has been decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise. Laos is a landlocked country with a primitive infrastructure, that is, it has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, limited external and internal telecommunications, and electricity available in only a limited area. Subsistence agriculture is the main occupation, accounting for over 60% of GDP and providing about 85-90% of total employment. The predominant crop is rice. For the foreseeable future the economy will continue to depend for its survival on foreign aid—from CEMA, IMF, and other international sources.

GDP: $585 million, per capita $150; real growth rate 3% (1989 est.)

Inflation rate (consumer prices): 35% (1989 est.)

Unemployment rate: 15% (1989 est.)

Budget: revenues $71 million; expenditures $198 million, including capital expenditures of $132 million (1988 est.)

Exports: $57.5 million (f.o.b., 1989 est.); commodities—electricity, wood products, coffee, tin; partners—Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, USSR, US

Imports: $219 million (c.i.f., 1989 est.); commodities—food, fuel oil, consumer goods, manufactures; partners—Thailand, USSR, Japan, France, Vietnam

External debt: $964 million (1989 est.)

Industrial production: growth rate 8% (1989 est.)

Electricity: 176,000 kW capacity; 900 million kWh produced, 225 kWh per capita (1989)

Industries: tin mining, timber, electric power, agricultural processing

Agriculture: accounts for 60% of GDP and employs most of the work force; subsistence farming predominates; normally self-sufficient; principal crops—rice (80% of cultivated land), potatoes, vegetables, coffee, sugarcane, cotton

Illicit drugs: illicit producer of cannabis and opium poppy for the international drug trade; production of cannabis increased in 1989; marijuana and heroin are shipped to Western countries, including the US

Aid: US commitments, including Ex-lm (FY70-79), $276 million; Western (non-US) countries, ODA and OOF bilateral commitments (1970-87), $468 million; Communist countries (1970-88), $895 million

Currency: new kip (plural—kips); 1 new kip(NK) = 100 at

Exchange rates: new kips (NK) per US$1—700 (December 1989), 725 (1989), 350 (1988), 200 (1987), 108 (1986), 95 (1985)

Fiscal year: 1 July-30 June


Highways: about 27,527 km total; 1,856 km bituminous or bituminous treated; 7,451 km gravel, crushed stone, or improved earth; 18,220 km unimproved earth and often impassable during rainy season mid-May to mid-September

Inland waterways: about 4,587 km, primarily Mekong and tributaries; 2,897 additional kilometers are sectionally navigable by craft drawing less than 0.5 m

Pipelines: 136 km, refined products

Ports: none

Airports: 64 total, 50 usable; 9 with permanent-surface runways; none with runways over 3,659 m; 2 with runways 2,440-3,659 m; 12 with runways 1,220-2,439 m

Telecommunications: service to general public considered poor; radio network provides generally erratic service to government users; 7,390 telephones (1986); stations—10 AM, no FM, 1 TV; 1 satellite earth station

Defense Forces

Branches: Lao People's Army (LPA, which consists of an army with naval, aviation, and militia elements). Air Force, National Police Department

Military manpower: males 15-49, 967,047; 517,666 fit for military service; 44,176 reach military age (18) annually; conscription age NA

Defense expenditures: 3.8% of GDP (1987)