The Mekong River has been feeding the Somsag Pommachan family and many other villagers who live deep inside the mountains of Laos. The family runs a small rice noodle place, connected to the outside only by a dirt road. Getting about is difficult. There are eight villages nearby, all tucked deep inside the rugged terrain of Laos, which becomes increasingly inaccessible. But the situation is about to change.
A few kilometers away from the Pammachan household, heavy trucks, tractors and excavators are in full operation. An asphalt road linking these villages is under construction. The road was financed by the Chinese government under the Belt and Road Initiative. It links Ban Mom village to Houaykhai village, and spans 22 kilometers.[Special coverage]
Guo Jianlong from the 17th Bureau of China Railway Engineering Corporation, is head of the project. He said: "We will transform this three-meter wide dirt road into a six-meter wide asphalt pavement, and smooth out the bumpy parts. When it is finished, it will be more convenient for the locals to travel and do business."
The new road project, granted not long ago, will serve a strategic purpose. The road goes right through the heart of what's known as the Golden Triangle – a region notorious for drug smuggling.
The Ban Mom village, at the starting point, is where drug trafficker Nor Kham was captured in 2013. Some of Nor Kham's relatives still live in the region.
Running parallel to the Mekong River, the new road will also act as the only inland route for the joint patrols of China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
Onglaxay Phameuang is an official from the Laos Defense Ministry. He said the patrols used to rely solely on the waterway, the new road will now serve as an alternative route. It will be much easier to maintain security and crack down on crimes in the future.
The project is expected to be completed by June 2019. For Somsag and other villagers, improved road conditions will go a long way towards ensuring a better and more secure life in the future.