Laos is a developing country landlocked between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The nation struggles with high poverty levels, vulnerability to climate change and gender inequality among other issues. However, due to the progress of many NGOs and a slow improvement in political freedom, Laos has begun to enhance the quality of life of its citizens. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos.
Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Laos
Education levels in Laos have improved from 91.6 percent enrollment in 2009 to 97 percent enrollment in 2011. However, access to education remains limited, especially for children living in rural areas and especially for girls. Although there is a 20 percent excess of teachers in the country overall, they are concentrated almost exclusively in urban and suburban areas. Unfortunately, only 45 percent of rural villages in Laos have education through the third grade and 20 percent of rural villages have no access to schools whatsoever. Save the Children has been successful in providing access to primary schools for over 3,000 children in 2012.
- Poverty Levels
Poverty levels are dire in Laos. In 2012, 23.2 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. In addition, 22.7 percent of the Laotian people were surviving on only $1.90 per day. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that there are very limited employment opportunities in Laos. The country’s economy is dominated by agriculture with 75 percent of the workforce working in this sector which offers little opportunity for economic mobility.
- Human Trafficking
Between 200,000 to 450,000 people are trafficked each year in the Greater Mekong Subregion, with many of those people coming from Laos. In addition, 90 percent of Laotian trafficking victims are girls ages 12 to 18. However, the government is not doing enough to curb this issue according to a report from the U.S. State Department in 2018 which notes, “The Government of Laos does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts.” Fortunately, there are several NGOs such as the Lotus Education Fund working to provide young girls with access to education, school supplies, uniforms and books so that they have the opportunity to remain in school and avoid exploitation.
- Child Marriage
Traditional customs and a lack of access to education for girls leads to high child marriage rates in Laos. According to the NGO Girls Not Brides, 9 percent of Laotian girls are married before the age of 15 and 35 percent are married before the age of 18. Understanding the effects of this issue and the other top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos is integral to fighting gender disparity in the region.
- Climate Change
The impact of climate change has hit Laotian farmers hard. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. reported that “serious issues regarding deforestation, forest degradation, aquatic resource degradation and loss of biodiversity have been observed.” This has detrimental effects on the livelihood of farmers. Laos’s Deputy Director of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute said, “Temperatures are definitely rising,” and “rice is the staple crop, and climate change risks the food security of thousands of villages. Every 1C increase in temperature can result in a 10 percent decrease in rice yield.”
- Disease Levels and Prevention
Despite the presence of threatening diseases such as Avian influenza, artemisinin-resistant malaria and HIV/AIDS, there are several projects in place currently to improve public health standards across the country. The U.S. is partnering with the Lao government “on a wide range of health-related programs to promote nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene, maternal and child health, support for people living with disabilities, and school feeding; programs which bring direct benefits to families across Laos.”
- Life Expectancy
The average life expectancy worldwide in 2016 was 72 years. However, Laos fell short of this global standard with an average life expectancy of 66.7 years. This disparity is largely due to poverty levels and hopefully understanding these top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos can help turn these statistics around.
- Political Structure
Political freedoms are unfortunately very limited in Laos. Although the constitution awards every citizen the right to vote, the political system is stuck in one-party rule under the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, which severely limits the ability of any citizen to run against the party or criticize the government. In fact, in May 2017, three Laotian citizens were sentenced to prison for criticizing the government on social media. The Freedom House gave the country a Press Freedom Status of “Not Free,” and a one out of 40 Political Rights rating. However, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith did make moderate progress in fighting corruption in 2017, which represents a step forward for the political progress in Laos.
- Wealth Disparity
Income inequality in Laos remains a pressing issue although general poverty levels are decreasing. The Laotian Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, increased from 0.311 to 0.364 from 1993 to 2013. This inequality rose amongst all ethnic groups in Laos and across both rural and urban regions. However, despite the rise in overall inequality, “access to publicly provided services (primary education, lower secondary education, access to health care and household access to the electricity network) has become more equal.” In addition, the absolute poverty rate in Laos has been cut in half from 46 percent of the population living in absolute poverty to only 23 percent.
- Access to Electricity
According to the World Bank, “access to energy is at the heart of development.” Having access to electricity is a modern luxury that many people in developing countries take for granted every day. In Laos, it is not a given for most citizens. In 1990, only 15.3 percent of the population had access to electricity. However, the World Bank funded more than 70 projects in more than 35 countries worth an estimated $5 billion. Laos has benefitted from this initiative as access to electricity rose to 87.1 percent of the population by 2016.
These top 10 facts about living conditions in Laos explain the greatest issues facing the Laotian people and government as well as the most successful progress. The reforms made by NGOs and the Laotian government and people themselves have made enormous strides in improving the everyday lives of the Laotian people.
– Alina Patrick