A ‘Step Change’ in Development Cooperation in Laos?

By Kaarina Immonen, United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Lao PDR.

Children in Labangkhok village, Eastern Laos. Photo: Ministry of Planning and Investment

Children in Labangkhok village, Eastern Laos. Photo: Ministry of Planning and Investment

We may well be about to see a far more inclusive way of working together for development in Laos.

After six months of consultations with donors, civil society organizations and businesses, the government is about to finalize a declaration that will guide development cooperation in the country until 2025.

The government and around 30-40 partner countries will sign the Vientiane Declaration on Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation on Nov. 27, during the country’s main national development forum.

Laos has racked up some commendable successes: gross domestic product has grown by an average of 7 percent year-on-year over the past decade; poverty was halved by 2015 — in line with the Millennium Development Goals; and hunger is down and people are living longer, healthier lives.

Yet the country faces serious challenges: An estimated 44 percent of children under 5 are stunted, and 27 percent are severely underweight. Despite a significant reduction, the number of maternal deaths remains high. Inequality is on the rise, and there are significant challenges surrounding environmental sustainability and ridding the country of unexploded ordnance that still kills, maims and presents an impediment to development.

Assistance from all sources — and in all forms — remains vital for Laos to tackle these challenges, and to meet its main aim of graduating from least developed country status by 2020.

In this context the Vientiane partnership declaration is a crucial tool to ensure all assistance is coordinated, in line with national development plans, and deployed in the smartest possible way for the maximum possible impact.

In line with global principles of effective development cooperation, the declaration highlights that official development assistance, or traditional aid, must be used wisely to accelerate broader, systemic change. This means that all development cooperation should be nationally owned and aligned with country’s development priorities in ways that link economic, human and environmental benefits simultaneously.

Efforts to achieve this could include more support to decision makers in key ministries on management and leadership. It could also include more regular policy dialogue to share ideas on what works best, as well as further engagement with local communities to help them raise questions about the services they need.

The declaration also places a strong emphasis on boosting domestic revenues, increasing cooperation with other developing countries and regional partners, upping knowledge and technology transfer, and closer work with business and civil society.

It includes clear, concrete commitments to boost local development planning, fight corruption, build an inclusive financial sector and build on knowledge sharing networks, which could include a mechanism to bring about the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies.

Around 30 to 40 OECD member countries and developing countries are set to sign up, alongside a range of international organizations.

Signatories should work together on a fully resourced implementation plan by September 2016.

The partnership declaration is a solid, effective framework to bring about the maximum impact from all development support in Laos for the next 10 years. If inclusive partnerships are built and kept for the long term, it could just mark a “step change” in development cooperation for the country.

This article was originally published by Devex