The COVID-19 pandemic that erupted in 2020 brought significant disruption to Lao PDR but with a fortunate low caseload to date the impact has primarily been socio-economic. Since March, the UN system and international partners have rallied to support the country in its COVID-19 response. The UN’s assistance covered both preparedness and response, including technical and financial support, procurement and logistics services for personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment and supplies, data analysis and impact assessments, policy advice, programme interventions, capacity building as well as the provision of information and communications technology (ICT) and other equipment to ensure business continuity. A Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA), building on a number of joint surveys and rapid impact assessments of COVID-19 conducted in April to June, focused on key areas of livelihoods and employment, agriculture, health, education, social protection and other cross-cutting issues, with special attention paid to the most vulnerable groups including women, children and migrant workers.
Building on these findings, the UN Socio-Economic Response and Recovery Plan (SERRP) to COVID-19 was developed. Presenting a consolidated package of support offered by the UN, it contributed to the country’s recovery effort, particularly in protecting the needs and rights of vulnerable groups. Under this, technical support was provided for preparedness planning, data monitoring, and development of relevant guidelines in detection of COVID-19 cases, contact tracing, laboratory testing and use of the medical equipment and supplies. With multi party trust fund (MPTF) support, capacity of Points of Entries, quarantine venues and health facilities were strengthened as was the support for the continuation of essential services in health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and waste management, and improve livelihood opportunities and social protection to mitigate the impacts of COVID19. In collaboration with partners, risk communication messages and materials were developed and disseminated to raise awareness, ensure effective prevention and reduce stigma. The Safely Back to School Campaign with key prevention messages reached over 6.5 million people via TV, radio and social media platforms. Collaboration with the Buddhist Fellowship Organisation enabled a country-wide outreach on COVID-19.
Weekly humanitarian flights organized by World Food Programme (WFP) in close collaboration with the Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO) from May maintained an access route for landlocked Laos with humanitarian flight path to Kuala Lumpur supporting 1,228 passengers from 96 organizations. This enabled the continuation of humanitarian and development operations and diplomatic relations as well as vital cargo services for PPE and vaccines following the suspension of commercial air services to Lao PDR. Despite the disruptions due to COVID-19, continued progress was recorded in all three pillars of the UN Partnership Framework (UNPF) 2017-2021.
Under Pillar 1 on Inclusive growth, livelihoods and resilience, the UN focused efforts on improving livelihoods and resilience to shocks, supporting the labor market and social protection, and strengthening economic opportunities and diversification through the provision of policy advice, guidance for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and trade, assistance for vulnerable groups and capacity building. Significant milestones were achieved in the adoption of National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS), the Land Law and Decree on Export of Lao Workers Working Abroad that benefitted vulnerable groups including unemployed, small-scale and subsistence farmers and migrant workers. Key data capacities were strengthened through the launch of Lao Climate Services for Agriculture and the national agricultural livelihood and adaptive capacity dataset (Lao PDR is the first least developed country (LDC) to produce a dataset of this kind).
Pillar 2 - Human Development: UN agencies continued to promote education, health, WASH, and nutrition through a comprehensive approach, engaging household, school and community levels as well as policy and system strengthening support, which brought more sustainable results. Steady progress in key education areas were recorded providing pedagogical advisory support and strengthening comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) and skill development. Health support focused on response to COVID-19 by strengthening coordination, planning and monitoring and evaluation (M&E); enhancing national capacity for early detection and in ensuring the continuity of essential health services; improving system preparedness and readiness to vaccine roll-out; distributing distancing and hygiene information as well as improving WASH infrastructure. The UN also provided guidance on food security and nutrition strategies and decrees, facilitated training on food production, and enhanced access to specialized nutritious foods.
Pillar 3 - Governance: the UN provided institutions with technical support and policy advice to enhance performance in meeting their commitments and functions and reach the most vulnerable. This includes strengthening of coordination among Government institutions, mainstreaming of key UN principles including gender equity, disability inclusion, and sustainability into legislation and strategies, including the critical support to implementation; conducting unexploded ordnance (UXO) risk awareness and institutional strengthening for UXO disposal, and supporting key data initiatives such as the development of national database system “Laoinfo” to inform decisionmaking. The UN supported improved access to justice by trainings for law professionals, supporting the awareness raising of and compliance with international standards and norms including advocacy for universalization through Lao ratifications, integrating commitments from the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) into policies, supporting the development of social services that strengthen child protection systems, address gender-based violence and help prevent sexual exploitation and abuse.
The UN played a key role in policy advisory support and providing technical assistance to the Government, whilst also coordinating broader development cooperation and support in the context of the finalization of the 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP). Drawing on expertise from across the UN development system (UNDS) and other development partners (DPs), the Government and the UN co-convened a Multi-Stakeholder Taskforce to assess the evolving pandemic situation and propose appropriate adjustments to policy priorities for the 9th NSEDP. This identified potential trade-offs between key policy areas and made recommendations aimed at recalibrating policy priorities over the coming years, focusing on the needs of those left furthest behind in areas of macro-fiscal framework and financing for development; trade and private sector, value chains and tourism; human capital; labor markets and migration; and green growth, resilience and risk management. Co-organized by the UN and the Government a series of High-level Thematic Policy Dialogues distilled a set of actionable recommendations. Building on these, the UN country team (UNCT) under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator (UNRC) successfully coordinated the broader development community’s contributions to the concluding High-level Consultation on theth NSEDP in December, aligning the programming of a broad set of DPs with the emerging national priorities. Agreement was also reached on the action points of a mid-term review of the 8th NSEDP introducing implementation arrangements comprising a financing strategy, costing of priorities, and an M&E framework to be developed in Q1 in 2021.
In preparation for the 2021 Triennial Review of progress towards LDC graduation the UN provided integrated policy advice to the Government. Drawing on expertise from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Trade Centre of the UN – WTO (ITC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed and Landlocked Developing countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS), a virtual consultation was convened in September by the UN and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). This briefing examined implications of graduation, and key lessons from experiences of other countries in preparing for a smooth transition. Follow-on joint efforts culminated in early 2021 with the announcement of the Committee for Development Policy that having conducted the triennial review of LDCs, Lao PDR was recommended for graduation with an extended 5-year preparatory period effectively setting the graduation to 2026 assuming a positive and continued development trajectory. Efforts to respond to the COVID-19 fallout leading into the recalibration of the NSEDP have set a good course for the graduation period. These preparations paved the way for the development of a clear and tailored smooth transition strategy in 2021 and an agreement within the Joint Lao PDR-UN Steering Committee overseeing the preparations of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF or Cooperation Framework) 2022-2026 to include a workstream on joint graduation support enabling a good foundation for all relevant stakeholders, to help pave the way towards a smooth and sustainable graduation.
In 2020, the budget across UNPF strategic outcome areas tallied USD 96M, with a USD 72 M (74.66%) delivery by CoB 2020. With COVID-19 disruptions, this is slightly lower than the 2019 delivery at USD 75M, but still higher than the previous two years of USD 63M and USD 44M respectively. In terms of sustainable development goals (SDGs), USD 19.5M of expenditure (42.03%) was invested in SDG3, followed by SDG2 with USD 10.3M (22.21%). In comparison, SDG5, 9 and 14 see least invested, accounting for less than 0.5% of total expenditure. Some 29.26% of the funding came from UN agencies’ own resources whilst other sources, including trust funds, private sector, foundations and other organizations and governments accounted for the remainder. In total, partners’ contributions amounted to USD 65M in 2020.
With the UNPF 2017-2021 coming to a close, the UNCT together with Government counterparts embarked on the planning of a new cycle of joint country programming following the guidance for the new generation of UN Cooperation Frameworks with objectives to continuously improve coordination, through a more strategic and integrated approach, emphasizing the normative value of the UN, with strengthened systemwide accountability to Government and partners, increased use of pooled funding mechanisms, and attention to transboundary issues and regional links for sustainable development. A Common Country Analysis (CCA) was drafted and an independent evaluation of the current framework conducted to inform the strategic prioritization exercise against the results of the 8th NSEDP and the focus of the new 9th five-year plan for 2021-2025 approved by the National Assembly in early 2021. Supported by the UN75 strategic outreach, the UNCT conducted broad and inclusive consultations to grasp the visions and aspirations of key national stakeholders and partners, and the needs of vulnerable groups to turn the collective promise of leaving no one behind actionable.
The UN adopted a more visible joint stand on human rights, gender mainstreaming, disability inclusion, and prevention against sexual abuse (PSEA). Upholding its normative role, the UNCT undertook its first country stocktaking exercise in February to look at pressing risks facing the country to inform the CCA. Human Rights and Gender Equality Indicators were mainstreamed within the SERRP. Enforcing the human rights-based approach (HRBA) and Leave No One Behind (LNOB) principle across the UNCT, advocacy increased and trainings on Human Rights Up Front and the Secretary-General’s Prevention Agenda were held and included in the bi-annual Induction Course for all UNCT newcomers. Marking the 75th anniversary of the UN and the 65th Anniversary of Lao PDR’s membership of the UN, the UN used the opportunity to enhance its strategic partnership with the Government through joint advocacy reflecting on the history of collaboration and shared priorities for future strategic directions.
The UN House and UN services underwent a disability accessibility audit outlining improvements needed and incorporating them into a UNCT sanctioned action plan. A joint PSEA Strategy and Action Plan was formulated, and an Inter-Agency PSEA Network was launched with the aim to strengthen horizontal coordination across the individual agencies, funds and programmes (AFPs) and with external partners. The UNCT plans to further strengthen internal UN architecture underpinning the UNSDCF including the establishment of a LNOB Group supporting and overseeing UN contributions to the Result Groups charged with the periodic review of the CCA as well as to serve as the resonance chamber of an early warning system with the aim of ensuring that the Human Rights-Based Approach and commitment to leaving no one behind are at the center of the UNs programmatic and advocacy activities.