An upgrade to 1 400 km of rural roads across Laos brings quick access to markets, hospitals and schools. Mee’s story shows how a better road can change lives

Mee Phommachan lives in a small, remote village in Laos. She travels to Paksan, the closest market town, to sell her goods – a journey that used to be far from easy. “I raise ducks and chickens,” she says.  “It took about five hours from here to Paksan, because the road was so bad. Sometimes, two or three chickens died on the way. So, I lost money.”

In June 2020, the road passing through Mee's village was improved and paved. Since then, it takes her only an hour to reach Paksan.

Now, she can get to market faster. Her animals survive, and her vegetables stay fresh. “My business no longer suffers. Since no animals die now, I have no losses. I can grow my profit.”

But that’s not the only advantage of the new road. “If people get so sick that it’s life threating,” she says, “now they have a chance [of survival], because the new road saves them time.”

The European Union and the European Investment Bank supported the Lao government in rehabilitating 1 400 km of unpaved roads in six provinces in Laos. The upgraded road network now guarantees safe transport for more than 1.6 million people.

New roads benefit most vulnerable provinces

In the provinces of Phongsaly, Houaphan, Oudomxay, Xiengkhouang Xayabouly and Bolikhamsay, the roads are bumpy and dangerous, with frequent landslides and flooding. Extreme weather closes roads. That prevents the inhabitants of remote communities from accessing markets, health services and schools for weeks at the time.

"By developing an integrated and sustainable urban project together with other insitutions, we are able to make a real impact on the quality of life for people – particularly the poor and vulnerable," says Meryn Martens, a senior transport specialist at the European Investment Bank. "This project allows the citizens of Laos to benefit from greater road safety, and it lowers health risks."

The road upgrade helps protect rural roads from flooding, storms and drought across Laos. It  also provides more reliable and quicker travel, as average speeds on the roads doubled.

At the same time, the project also covers safety measures, including better roads signs, footpaths, pedestrian crossings and lighting.

The roads project included a €5 million grant from the European Investment Bank, in addition to the EU bank’s €20 million loan. A further €5 million grant came from the European Union’s Asia Investment Facility.

This story is part of a series, Chance for Change, which shows how our projects improve lives around the world. See more stories here.