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Laos: Millennium Hunger Target Still Some Way Off

Laos is on track to meet targets on primary school enrolment and reducing child mortality, but stronger action is needed on reducing hunger, according to the latest Millennium Development Goals report on the Asian country.

VIENTIANE -- The MDG1 target to “reduce hunger by half” is one of three targets on which Laos is defined by the report as “seriously off track”.

“Poverty is prevalent, especially in the countryside. Too many people in remote parts of the country suffer from hunger during the lean season,” said United Nations Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon during a recent visit to Laos.

Secretary General Ban officially launched the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2008 progress report for Lao PDR during his visit. The report takes stock of the progress made in the country at the midpoint between the Millennium Declaration and the 2015 target date.

Chronic malnutrition

The report notes that the underweight rate among children under five is 37 percent, and chronic malnutrition is a significant concern especially in rural areas. These points were also highlighted by the WFP Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) of 2007.

“This is not only a human tragedy,” said Mr Ban in his keynote address at the launch of the report. “It will have serious implications for the future of this country’s workforce and its ability to compete in a global economy.”

Mr Ban reiterated his concern about the current global financial crisis and described his action at the recent G20 meeting in London, to make sure that leaders “did not forget subsistence farmers in Laos”.

High food prices

In Laos, WFP works in many remote and rural areas, serving as a safety net for vulnerable families and communities affected by livelihood shocks such as natural disasters, and socio-economic factors like high food prices, relocation and the eradication of opium cultivation.

Our programmes promote sustainable rural development activities, both in the recovery phase after shocks and in the framework of broader community-based projects. The aim is to improve and diversify agricultural production, so as to make communities more resilient to future downturns and seasonal hunger.

Since the publication of its CFSVA analysis in 2007, WFP has increasingly focused on nutrition activities. The UN proposed the inclusion of stunting an outcome indicator for MDG1, so as to make sure that progress on chronic malnutrition is closely monitored.

WFP-assisted school meals, active in the country since 2002, have proven effective in eliminating economic barriers in the access to primary education, reducing the gender gap and dropout rates and thus contributing to achieving universal primary education under MDG2.