The river lapwing inhabits wide, slow rivers with sand or gravel bars and islands. The southern Lao population may represent 1·5–3% of the world population. Rivers used by river lapwings are selected for settlement by people, and birds suffer from human disturbance: numbers of river lapwings and villages per km of river are inversely correlated. Populations remote from human pressure are further threatened by hydropower development. The river lapwing is only one of a community of declining birds of sandbar habitats; four other species are approaching national extinction in Laos. A substantial proportion of a major catchment should be protected. Further studies and a monitoring programme for the river lapwing are needed.