The unusually low water levels in the Mekong River have hampered the movement of heavy cargo ships transporting construction materials and other goods from the northern provinces to Luang Prabang.
With the Mekong lower than normal for this time of year, heavy cargo ships have been experiencing delays for fear they will not be able to navigate the river.
The delay has seen some construction projects in Laung Prabang also grind to a halt as they are unable to source materials such as steel and cement.
Head of the waterways sector in Luang Prabang, Mr Sombath Chaleunphonh, said the lowest area was around Paktha district in Bokeo province.
Currently the water levels are too low for the larger cargo ships and consequently they cannot get through to Luang Prabang.
“Some big projects in our province have been suspended due to a lack of construction supplies and most of these materials come from Bokeo,” he said.
Transporting goods via cargo ships on the Mekong River in this area is most convenient because one cargo ship can carry up to 100 tonnes, which is the equivalent of between 10 or 20 trucks, he said.
Some cargo boats come all the way from China with materials while others are loaded with Thai goods at Chiang Sean opposite Huayxai in Bokeo.
Mr Sombath said the delays to shipping have caused shortages not only of construction materials but also consumption goods.
“Normally there are no problems with river transport in March. This is unusual,” he said.
The sector has monitored the water levels carefully and they have found that the river began to dry up in February and levels have been especially low this month, approaching the lowest levels on record.
However boats carrying passengers of up to 100 people and chartered tourist boats are still able to operate.
The relevant authorities are now looking into what can be done to resolve the issue. One option is to employ a dredging barge to widen the shipping channel and allow the cargo boats to pass.
However Mr Sombath said this was only a short term solution because the water channel will become narrow again after only a few days.
Vientiane Times reporters have observed that the low levels of the Mekong River in Vientiane are also having some impacts on fisherman.
They said whenever the water levels get too low they find it harder to catch fish so obviously this year their overall catch will be diminished.