Laos - a background

Laos is the only landlocked country in South East Asia; surrounded by China, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia.

/  Overview of Laos's history

It has a population of 6.85 million. In 1975, the “Pathet Lao” ended six centuries of Monarchical rule with a revolution that established the “Lao People’s Democratic Republic”. Before this the country had suffered from sixty years of civil war. The conflict had spilled over from the Vietnam War and from the American “Secret War in Laos”. As a result of this warfare, isolation and economic deprivation have plagued the country, making it now one of the least developed in the world.

According to the World Bank, GDP growth averaged 7.7% over the last decade, with income per capita reaching $2,460 in 2018. Until recently, growth has been largely dependent on natural resources, and this has placed increasing pressure on the environment. Environmental degradation is taking an economic toll on the country due the depletion of natural resources and adverse impacts on human health from pollution and waste. Recognising the limitations of this growth model, Laos has implemented reforms to support greener, more inclusive growth.

A cleaner and more resource-efficient growth model in Lao PDR can also have a major human impact: 70% of the Lao population still depends on forests and waterways for income and nutrition, and better air quality will improve people’s health. Many of the country’s poorest people live in rural areas and are the most vulnerable to pollution, climate risks, and deforestation.

Laos has made good progress over the past twenty years, including halving poverty, reducing hunger, and improving education and health outcomes. However, the country needs to accelerate investments in human capital. According to the Human Capital Index, a child born in Laos today will only reach 45% of their potential compared to if they enjoyed full health and education. Malnutrition is a critical issue, with stunting affecting over 30% of children under five. The maternal mortality rate also remains high, with only 38% of births in rural areas without roads occurring in a health facility. While a child in Laos goes to school for an average of 10.8 years, they learn only the equivalent of 6.4 years.

The government’s National Nutrition Strategy (2015-2025) and Plan of Action (2016-2020) lay out an ambitious multi-sectoral convergence approach aimed at reducing chronic malnutrition (stunting) for children under five from the current 33% to 25% by 2025. This approach draws from the successful experience of other countries in addressing chronic malnutrition.The Sustainable Development Goals provide an overarching framework to monitor and evaluate progress on the government of Lao PDR’s social and economic plans and commitments.

World Bank, 2019

/  Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is located in the north central region of Laos at the confluence of the Nam Khan River and Mekong River, about 300 kilometres north of the capital Vientiane. Luang Prabang means “Great Image of the Buddha”. Historically the town was the royal capital. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, the ancient section of the town is home to more than 30 classical Buddhist temples making it an ancient site for Buddhist pilgrimage. It is also an outstanding example of fusion of traditional Lao and 19th and 20th centuries French colonial architecture and urban structures. For more information on Luang Prabang as a UNESCO World Heritage site click here.

Perhaps the most cohesive element in the Lao people’s resilience and survival is the deeply entrenched Buddhism of the nation. Nowhere is this truer than in Luang Prabang. The unique form of Theravada Buddhism practiced there is more than a religion. It is a binding force, interwoven through the lives of the communities - towns and villages - manifesting itself in material and immaterial ways that provide substantial social, cultural, educational and intellectual underpinnings to their inhabitants.