The World Bank’s Board of executive directors has approved additional funding of $22.5 million for Laos’ Poverty Reduction Fund-one of the Lao government’s main vehicles to address and redress rural poverty.
The additional funding is in the form of soft loans – loans with a below-market rate of interest – and will support agriculture-related activities under the government’s National Nutrition Strategy, a World Bank press release said.
The focus will be on upgrading agricultural infrastructure for improving livelihoods and nutritional intake and broadening the access for seed grants to self-help groups.
The additional funding will also contribute to a recent government multi-sectoral nutrition initiative to reduce child stunting in some of the poorest districts of the country.
This initiative, already supported by the World Bank, focuses on the provinces of Oudomxay, Huaphan, Phongsaly and Xieng Khuang, where rates of child stunting are especially high. The initiative will help agricultural communities improve livestock and crop production, with a focus on diverse and nutritious foods.
World Bank Country Manager for Laos Nicola Pontara said: “Since 2002, the Poverty Reduction Fund has helped improve the lives of more than 1.2 million people living in nearly 3,000 of the poorest villages of the country. They now have improved village roads, sanitation, irrigation, schools and health facilities.”
“This additional funding will help increase the diversity of food groups that young children and pregnant mothers consume by enabling them to produce their own nutritious food while increasing incomes.”
The World Bank said the government’s National Nutrition Strategy and Plan of Action aims to accelerate the reduction of stunting among children under five years old. From 44 per cent in 2012 to 25 per cent by 2025 is the target which will be achieved through activities such as strengthening social safety nets and setting up a conditional cash transfer programme to target beneficiaries.
Even though poverty has significantly declined in the country over the previous decade, the disparity between regions and among socioeconomic and ethnic groups is still high.
As of 2016, about 19 per cent of Lao citizens were undernourished and 33 per cent of children under five years of age were stunted. In the poorest communities, stunting rates in children are more than three times higher than children in the richest communities.
The new World Bank financing comes from the International Development Association, the World Bank’s fund for the poorest.
Evidence has shown that stunted children are more susceptible to chronic diseases in adulthood, attain fewer years of schooling and have low incomes as adults.
This initiative targets child nutrition as part of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project that aims to increase investments in human potential for greater equity and economic growth.
VIENTIANE TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK