Poverty in Lao PDR has declined steadily, having dropped by 40% between 1992/93 and 2007/08. The country is on track to achieving the poverty target, or has already achieved this target. But while overall poverty has declined, the country’s rapid economic growth has not benefited all equally. Those in geographically disadvantaged areas have seen an increase in poverty and large disparities in skills-based job opportunities. To promote more equitable growth, revenues from the resource sector need to be applied toward broader economic and social development.
Despite generally declining poverty rates, food poverty has in fact increased in both urban and rural areas between 2002/03 and 2007/08. Food poverty hit a low of 19.8% in 2002/03. A return to those levels would see the country close to its 2015 target of 19%. More difficult to achieve will be the prevalence of stunted and underweight children, with an estimated 44% of children under five stunted and some 27% underweight. These are well off the goals of 34% and 22%, respectively.
Lao PDR has made steady progress in the education sector, and has nearly achieved the national target of 98% net enrolment ratio for both girls and boys. Despite the positive change, the country still remains off the pace if it is to achieve education targets by 2015. Survival rate has improved from 48% in 1992 to 70% in 2012, but is still low in comparison to neighboring countries and well off the 2015 target. The gross enrolment ratio has increased by 26 percentage points to 46% since the early 1990s, but this rate of increase is still too slow to see the Lao PDR graduate from LDC status [link to Equitable and Sustainable Development header] by 2020. In addition, financing is still a problem, with much of education funding coming from external sources. While significant progress has been made to achieve universal primary education, the low retention of students means the Lao PDR risks not achieving its 2015 targets.
The Lao PDR has made steady progress on its gender equality targets. It is on track to realize parity between boys and girls by 2015. In higher education, however, equality is not as prevalent, falling to 77 girls per 100 boys by the time they reach tertiary education. Women and men account for equal proportions of the total workforce but women, but there is a wage gap between male and female workers. A quarter of the national parliament in 2012 was composed of women, giving the the Lao PDR one of the highest proportions of women in parliament in the region.
The Lao PDR remains primarily a source country for victims of human trafficking. Young women and girls, especially those from economically disadvantaged demographics, may be forced into Thailand’s commercial sex trade or domestic service, garment factories and agricultural industries. Approximately 72% of trafficked children are young girls under 18 years of age. The Government has adopted several laws, regulations and plans to combat trafficking and is a signatory to numerous regional MOUs that seek to prevent, combat and assist human trafficking victims.
The Lao PDR has already achieved its target for the decline in under-five mortality rates. Between 1993 and 2011, under-five mortality rates fell from 170 to 79 per 1,000 live births. The Lao PDR is also on track to reach its target for reduced infant mortality, though it faces not insignificant challenges to do so. From 1993 to 2011, infant mortality fell from 114 to 68 per 1,000 live births. Much of this progress was due to improved socio-economic circumstances for the less poor. Achieving the infant mortality target of 45 per 1,000 live births will require that the Lao PDR reach the poorest and most disadvantaged populations in the country. Steady economic growth allows for fiscal space in the budget to cover vaccines, other essential supplies and functioning of primary health care facilities.
Maternal mortality has declined considerably over the last two decades, from 796 per 100,000 live births in 1995 to 357 per 100,000 live births in 2009. Still, the Lao PDR has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the region. Births attended by a medical professional jumped from 14% in 1995 to 42% in 2009, but the number still falls short of the 50% target. Further, facility-based deliveries are still low at 38%. There continue to be massive disparities in delivery assistance, with the safe-delivery rate in urban areas six times higher than in remote rural areas. To achieve the 2015 targets, the Lao PDR will need to improve the quality of services, promote facility-based delivery and prevent high-risk and unwanted pregnancies. Family planning alone could cut maternal deaths by almost a third and is one of the most cost-effective interventions to help reduce maternal mortality. Mobilization and health education activities will need to target women and men from communities in the remote rural areas.
HIV prevalence in the Lao PDR is quite low, though the number of new cases has increased at a rate of about 1,000 per year. Condom use among female sex workers was at 92.5% in 2012, just shy of the 95% target set for 2015. Knowledge about HIV/AIDS, however, is unequally disseminated, with men more informed than women. Anti-retroviral treatment (ART) is still low, with only 55.4% of those who need it receiving the treatment.
The Lao PDR has made great strides toward halting the spread of malaria, with incidence and mortality in steep decline. Malaria mortality per 100,000 population has declined from 7.1 in 2000 to 0.3 in 2011. Malaria prevention strategies are similarly successful. The National Bed Net Survey in 2011 found that 98% of children sleep under a bed net of some kind. In addition, virtually all children with malaria were treated.
The country has already met the 2015 targets for incidence, prevalence and mortality rates for tuberculosis, though a national TB prevalence survey in 2010/2011 indicated the prevalence of TB was nearly two times higher than previously estimated.
The Lao PDR faces a challenge in balancing economic activity without sustaining further environmental damage. Forest cover in the country has declined from 49.10% in 1982 to 40.34% in 2010. This is down from some 70% several decades prior. When combined with further industrial activity, the decline in forest cover transformed the Lao PDR from a net sequester of CO2 in 1990 to a net emitter in 2000.
The country is making progress, however, and the rate of deforestation has slowed. The Government has committed to bringing all 51 production forest areas under sustainable forest management plans that apply Forest Steward Council standards.
The Lao PDR has steadily increased access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation facilities. In 2011, 70% of the country had access to clean drinking water and urban coverage of sanitation facilities has reached 88%, though coverage is much lower in urban areas. Even if the Lao PDR does reach its target of 60% of the population using an improved sanitation facility by 2015, that still leaves a large segment of the population practicing open defecation.
Sustainable development and poverty reduction are tied to trade, debt sustainability, aid and technology. The Lao PDR, in becoming the 158th member of the World Trade Organisation in February of 2013, has made great strides toward integrating with the global economy. It also benefits from unilateral tariff preferences from 36 countries in its capacity as an LDC. The Lao PDR’s debt profile has improved markedly and access to mass media and information communication technologies has increased, even among the poor. With the advent of the Aid Management Platform (AMP) portal, the country will be able to offer a high degree of transparency and accountability to aid providers. Ensuring equitable and sustainable growth during its continued development will help the Lao PDR to reach national development targets and allow for all its citizens to enjoy the country’s progress.
During the Second Indochina war, the Lao PDR suffered intensive aerial bombardment and extensive ground battles. Over a period of nine years, more than two million tonnes of ordnance were dropped. More than 270 million cluster sub-munitions were dropped over the Lao PDR, of which roughly 80 million failed to detonate upon impact.
This unexploded ordnance (UXO) still exists throughout large swathes of the country and many Lao people are killed and injured every year by munitions from a war that ended almost four decades ago. UXO are also a significant impediment to development, as land must be cleared of the dangerous explosives before infrastructure can be built or farmers can safely access agricultural land.
To address this ongoing issue, the Government of the Lao PDR, the United Nations and Development Partners signed an MDG Compact at the 2010 Round Table Meeting, announcing that they are fully committed to attaining the country-specific MDG 9 on the reduction of UXO impact by 2020.
MDG 9 has three targets and each target has an indicator to help measure progress.
- Target 1: Ensure the complete clearance of UXO from priority / high value agricultural land by 2020
- Indicator: 20,000 hectares to be decontaminated of UXO per year
- Target 2: Reduce substantially the number of casualties as a result of UXO incidents
- Indicator: Reduce the number of casualties from UXO incidents
- Target 3: Ensure that the medical and rehabilitation needs of all UXO survivors are met
- Indicator: Provision of proper assistance to UXO survivors