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Laos to Fall Short of UN Sustainability Goals

Source: Radio Free Asia

High levels of foreign-owned debt and a lack of high-paying work means that Laos likely won’t be able to achieve two UN sustainable development goals – providing everyone with electricity and employment by the year 2030, government officials and analysts told Radio Free Asia.

Laos has signed on to the 2030 Agenda, a set of 17 sustainable development goals ratified by the UN in 2015 that include strategies for “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” and “affordable and clean energy.” 

Although Laos has constructed 94 hydroelectric dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries in a bold plan that would make it the “Battery of Southeast Asia,” nearly all of the dams were built with foreign investment and are geared toward selling the generated power to neighboring countries for profit.

It may therefore take 30 years for Laos to achieve access to electricity nationwide, analysts say. 

In the northern province of Luang Prabang, around 65% of people have access to electricity, but it isn’t readily available in the more rural areas, a provincial official told RFA’s Lao Service.

“To extend the power line to people’s houses, we need funding, but the government is short on budget,” he said. “Villagers who live in remote areas use lamps and firewood because they are not hooked up to the power line. We have to have money to do that.”

The southern province of Sekong is one of the better connected at 87%, an official there told RFA. 

“The rest don’t have [electricity] because their villages are built on the hillside,” he said. “They are scattered all over the place, not living together in one big village. That’s the reason they don’t have power.”

A district-level official in nearby Oudomxay province told RFA that only 70 of 100 families in the district had electricity because the other 30 were cattle raisers and lived far away from the village.

A villager in the northwestern province of Xayabury, however, said that people go without electricity, not because the government can’t afford it, but because the people are expected to pay for it.

“Here in Xayabury province, there are two villages with a total of 10 families, or 56 people, who don’t have electricity because they don’t have money to connect the power line to their villages.”

Jobs for all?

Although Laos is committed to also eliminating unemployment by the year 2030, government officials said that goal is unrealistic. A lack of high-paying jobs in Laos means that a large percentage of the working population seeks work in neighboring Thailand and other countries.

Currently, Laos says that out of its population of 7.7 million, only 61,000 are officially listed as unemployed because statistics do not count farmers and others who work outside the system. 

An official in the southern province of Champasak said the economy is not expected to improve by 2030.

“There are many unemployed people in Champassack, because they don’t want to work with low pay,” he said. “Without wage increases and an improved economy, most of the Lao workers [will continue to] work overseas.”

An official in the northern province of Bokeo said that more than half of all city dwellers have jobs, but this is not the case in more rural areas.

“There are many thousands of unemployed on the list, but there are so many more unlisted who are not employed because authorities are unable to collect data in rural areas,” he said.

An official in nearby Xaysomboun province said that because so many farmers only work during the rainy season, they are counted as unemployed in the dry seasons.

“Our province doesn’t have a factory to hire workers, so most people work on the farms seasonally,” he said. “It’s also because of high inflation and the devaluation of the kip that some people went to work overseas.”

An official in Savannakhet province however explained that the unemployed were all in the cities because farmers work year round.

“There are a lot of unemployed people in the cities, after they graduate from school there is no work to do,” he said. ”In rural areas not too many people are un-employed because they work with their families farming, and some work on rubber plantations.”