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Bureau of Mines / Minerals yearbook mineral industries of Asia and the Pacific 1992
Year 1992, Volume 3 (1992)

Lyday, Travis Q.
Laos,   pp. [244]-246 ff. PDF (869.1 KB)

Page 245

By Travis Q. Lyday 
 The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a small, landlocked country on the
Indochinese Peninsula. Its economy is agrarian, based primarily on wet rice
farming and slash-and-burn cultivation. The mining and quarrying sector contributes
less than 0.5 % to the economy. 
 The mineral resources of Laos include copper, gold, iron ore, lead and zinc,
tin, gypsum, rock salt, sapphire, coal, and, probably, petroleum. The only
significant mineral production in the country until recently has been tin
ore. Some of the other mineral resources have been extracted, but only by
using primitive and unsystematic methods. In addition, limestone is quarried
near Thakhek in Khammouan Province and is used locally for highway construction
and export to Thailand. Other construction materials such as sand and gravel
also are extracted on a small scale, mainly from the renewable deposits of
the Mekong River, which constitutes most of the country's western boundary
with Thailand. Essentially, the mineral industry that is extant in the country
is unstructured and sporadic. 
 Gold is found throughout Laos in deposits occurring in primary quartz veins,
in association with base metals, and in placers. Current production is obtained
by panning at numerous sites in both the north and the south. Investment
in gold exploration is being considered by some foreign firms. 
 Laos' iron ore deposits are in Xiang Khoang Province, in the north-central
part of the country. The principal deposits are Pha Lek and Phou Nhouan,
both of which are deemed to have economic potential. However, they remain
basically undisturbed owing to inaccessibility, lack of infrastructure, and
the high capital cost required for development. Any development of the deposits
probably would depend on the growth of the steel industries in the adjacent
countries of Thailand or Vietnam. 
Tin mining continues to be a cottage ~ industry from a group of small mines
in the Nam (River) Pathene Valley about 60 (km) north of Thakhek. The principal
ore is a surface enrichment of cassiterite, an oxide of tin. 
 Production of gypsum comes from near Dong Hene in Savannakhet Province and
is marketed to customers across the border in Vietnam. The mine and plant
originally were developed in the late 1970's by the Vietnamese. Production
characteristically is suspended during the rainy season, which typically
occurs from June to October. Stockpiled material sometimes is processed during
this period. The gypsum underlies potash and rock salt horizons in a thick
and extensive evaporite sequence. 
 High-grade rock salt is mined from the same evaporite deposits in the Vientiane
plain from which gypsum is mined. However, mining methods and marketing patterns
of product are unknown. 
 Sapphire is mined, or collected, on an artisanal scale by the local population
from placer deposits near Ban Houei Sai, Bokeo Province, in the northwest
and from streambeds throughout the southern part of the country. 
 Coal reportedly has been mined since about 1985 at the rate of about 1,500
(mt/a) from deposits at Bochan, northwest of Vientiane in Vientiane Province.
No production is known to have occurred during 1992. Coal also occurs in
the south of the country in Saravan Province and in the north of the country
in Phongsaly Province. 
 Laos has a centrally planned economy; the Government owns and controls all
productive enterprises, regardless of size or activity. However, with increasing
recognition that systematic production of minerals would probably be beneficial
to the country's economy, measures have been enacted in recent years by the
Government to encourage exploration and development in the mineral sector.
These measures include sanctioning activity by the private sector, including
foreign interests. 
 Any presentation on the mineral reserves of Laos merely would be crude estimates
as well as premature. Efforts are continuing through Government initiatives
to attract and organize mineral exploration and development in the country.
 Laos is one of the world's poorest countries. Its infrastructure is primitive
at best, having no railroads (although a Thai railroad reaches Nong Khai,
across the Mekong from Vientiane, which serves as a main trade artery for
the country) 
~ and only a rudimentary transportation 
~ system. There are almost 27,530 km of 
~ roads, of which 1,856 km is paved. Another 7,450 km consists of gravel,
crushed stone, or other type of improved surface. The remaining 18,224 km
is unimproved, loose surface, and often impassable during the rainy season.
 There are 57 airports in the country, 47 of which are considered usable.
There are only eight airports with paved runways. There are no airports with
runways more than 3 ,659 (m) in length and only one airport with a runway
longer than 2,440 m. Only one airport, the Wattay International in Vientiane,
has regularly scheduled flights. 
 The country has about 4,587 km of inland waterways, primarily the Mekong

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