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What are the current issues in Lao People’s Democratic Republic

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is one of the world’s least developed countries. It is landlocked and mountainous, with significant parts of the country still inaccessible by road. Despite steady economic growth in the past decade, food insecurity remains widespread throughout the country and alarmingly high in rural areas. Nearly every second child under five years of age in Laos is chronically malnourished (stunted). Ethnic groups living in remote areas and rural children are particularly vulnerable.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a least developed and low-income food-deficit country. Lao PDR is landlocked, with a population of 6 million comprising 49 officially recognized ethnic groups. It has one of the lowest population densities in Asia and villages tend to be scattered, remote and cut-off from essential services. More than one quarter of the population lives under the national poverty line.

Lao PDR is the world’s most heavily bombed country (per capita). Two thirds of the country is still contaminated with unexploded ordnance, which continues to cause death and injury and prevents the use of land for agriculture or animal husbandry, having a direct impact on food security. In this context, malnutrition remains a challenge for the country. The International Food Policy Research Institute 2012 Global Hunger Index describes the situation in Lao PDR as serious.

Despite steady economic growth over the last 15 years, Lao PDR continues to have very high chronic malnutrition rates: nearly every second child under the age of 5 in Lao PDR is chronically malnourished and every fifth rural child is severely stunted. These rates are even higher in remote areas and among some ethnic groups.

Natural disasters such as floods, droughts and pests are common and can lead to acute undernutrition since the infrastructure is weak and overall coping strategies are limited. In addition, micronutrient deficiencies affect large parts of the population, with over 40 percent of children under 5 and 63 percent of children under 2 suffering from anemia, and almost 45 percent of children under 5 and 23 percent of women between 12 and 49 years of age affected by sub-clinical vitamin A deficiency.

What the World Food Programme is doing in Lao People’s Democratic Republic

WFP’s vision for Lao PDR is a country that is free from undernutrition and its debilitating impacts on human potential and national development. WFP supports the Government of Lao PDR to prevent and reduce wasting, stunting and micronutrient deficiencies.

Recent and severe weight loss, which is caused by starvation and/or disease and often associated with emergencies or other shocks, can lead to further serious illness and death. In children under the age of five this acute malnutrition is called wasting; young children and infants are especially vulnerable and, if affected, need food assistance urgently.

Stunting, or chronic malnutrition, is caused during the first 1000 days of life, from conception to two years of age. A lack of nutrients during this critical period impacts the development of a child’s brain and body; the effects last a lifetime. Lao PDR has one of the worst stunting rates worldwide – every second child in rural areas is chronically malnourished.

Micronutrient deficiencies can lead to serious health problems for both children and adults. Pregnant women and their infants are especially vulnerable. Iron and folic acid are especially important for pregnant women, while vitamin A, iron and iodine are especially important for infants and children. In Laos, many people lack these essential micronutrients in their diets.

  • WFP response to fight wasting - Emergency Preparedness and Response

In emergencies caused by frequent natural disasters, nutritionally balanced emergency food rations prevent people from becoming malnourished, while those who are already malnourished receive treatment. WFP takes the lead on supplementary feeding and provide support on therapeutic feeding programs. In addition, WFP builds the capacity of government counterparts to respond to smaller scale emergencies without assistance.

  • WFP response to fight stunting

To address high chronic malnutrition rates which persist throughout the country, WFP is taking a lifecycle approach, targeting children during the critical first 1000 days of their life, primary and secondary school students, pregnant and lactating women and other caregivers as well as households and communities with high chronic malnutrition rates.

Mother and Child Health and Nutrition: To improve the nutritional and health status of pregnant and breastfeeding women and small children, WFP delivers specialised nutrition products that ensure pregnant and lactating women as well as children aged 6-23 months receive all the nutrients they need; encourages women to attend health centres before, during and after delivery; and provides nutrition education at the village level.

School Meals: In over 1,500 primary schools, WFP combines a nutritious mid-morning snack for children ages 2 to 5 with nutrition-related messages to improve the nutritional status of schoolchildren and their families, and encourage school enrolment and attendance. WFP works in close cooperation with the Lao Government to gradually hand over school meals activities.

Livelihood Initiatives for Nutrition: Food for asset and cash for asset activities focus on chronically food-insecure households and communities. WFP supports them in creating assets that improve their nutrition and increase their food security in the long term. In areas where farmers produce a surplus but still struggle with high stunting levels, WFP works to enhance productivity and link farmers to markets, and provide nutrition education so the increased income can benefit the nutritional status of the whole family.

  • WFP response to fight micronutrient deficiencies - food fortification and marketing

In its efforts to address micronutrient deficiencies, WFP works closely with the government and the private sector to fortify locally produced foods to be used in WFP interventions and marketed across the country.

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