Hunger crisis grows in Laos, despite economic gains

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One-third of children in the country have limited access to food, World Food Program says.

Despite economic growth, one-third of Lao children and about 20 percent of the country’s population as a whole continue to experience food insecurity, the World Food Program and Lao government reported.

The WFP said that Laos ranked 87th out of 117 countries on the 2019 Global Hunger Index. Representatives from the group and the government shared the findings after meeting in Vientiane on Jan. 27.

WFP identifies floods, droughts, land degradation, deforestation, relocation and migration as continuing threats to food access in the country.

“While the direct health impacts of the [COVID-19] pandemic have been relatively limited, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic faces an unprecedented challenge with the threat that health, economic and social crises may lead to the reversal of years of progress in poverty alleviation, food security, health and education,” the WFP said.

A study of 20,000 children in the northeastern province of Houaphanh, one of the country’s poorest, showed that about one in five were skinny and stunted and 13 percent were malnourished, an official from the Houaphanh Health Department said.

“It’s because the families of these children are poor and have no nutritious food to eat. Furthermore, they don’t have access to international food aid programs. … Those are only accessible in two districts of this province,” said the official, who requested anonymity to speak freely without fear of reprisal, like all other unnamed sources in this report.

“Most people including children eat only vegetables, very little meat and fish. Meat or fish is hard to find here,” the official said.

Food shortages are also hitting the Kaleum district in Sekong, another impoverished province in the southeast, a Health Department official there said.

“It’s getting worse. Usually, we rely on food aid coming from Vietnam but now all borders are closed due COVID-19 pandemic. Villagers forage food in the forest and creeks and they grow vegetables,” the Kaleum official said.

It’s the same story in Xayaburi province’s Xienghone district in the northwest, a Health Department official there said.

“This district is remote and more than 20 percent of children under five are malnourished. Residents don’t have enough food to feed their children. Many children in some villages in the district received food aid three years ago but now all food aid programs have been suspended,” the Xienghone official said.

“Most parents are poor, they work in the mountains every day and leave their children at home with their grandparents who have little food to feed them,” he said.

The villagers don’t have ready access to meat because people typically don’t own livestock: “That’s why they’re still poor and food-insecure,” the Xienghone official said.

Residents in Champassak province’s Khong district raise pigs and chickens, but still do not enough to eat, an Agriculture and Forestry Department official in the province said.

“We still rely on the forest for food, and the food supply is too low. So, we eat whatever we have. We have land, but the land is hot. We can’t grow rice or coffee on it,” he said. “We can only grow a little of rice on the slopes of mountains, but the practice is not productive at all. We have never received any food aid.”

 

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