LAOS - Responding to COVID-19 in rural areas
The Government of Luxembourg has granted 1 million EUR to support people in disadvantaged villages in Laos to cope with the economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The support is channelled through the Local Development Programme – LAO/030, which is working with 150 000 people in 229 poor target villages in the four provinces of Bokeo, Bolikhamxay, Khammouane and Vientiane.
Household representatives awaiting the start of the distribution of rice, and transfer of cash to destitute households, © LuxDev
While Laos has so far been spared from serious health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, with only 22 known cases and no deaths, the economic impact has been devastating to an already vulnerable economy. The economic fallouts have, as usual, hit the poorest people disproportionally hard. This is the case in the remote upland areas where most of the population lives on less than a US Dollar a day, eked out from marginal farming and supplemented by occasional wage work, remittances from migrant working family members, and small-scale trading. These income sources have diminished and left tens of thousands of people in peril following the lockdowns, the closing of international borders, and the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic.
One lady from a destitute household receiving an envelope with 40 EUR in cash. In addition, the family received 60 kg of rice to help bridge the hunger period up to the next harvest 3 month later, © LuxDev
These problems are painfully evident in the LAO/030 target villages, having been selected in the first place for their high poverty rates and vulnerability. Hence, poverty, remoteness, difficult road access, cultural and language barriers, and generally low education levels make the communities ill equipped to cope with the potential spread of the coronavirus and its economic impact. Furthermore, most villages witnessed disastrously low rice yields in 2019 because of adverse weather conditions. In normal years, most people would cope with food insecurity through off-farm work in Laos or even in Thailand. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined such opportunities, while the regular trading in agricultural, handcraft and non-timber forest products have either stopped or seen increased transportation costs that undermines the economic return for farmers. The economic impact of the pandemic means that many people are facing hunger and malnutrition, which will only increase the vulnerability of the population in case of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Rice is transferred from import containers to small truck more likely to reach the village on the muddy monsoon roads, © LuxDev
Rice sacks are stacked in the community school ready for distribution to most food insecure families, © LuxDev
To help alleviate these problems in the LAO/030 target villages, in June 2020 the Government of Luxembourg decided to provide a 1 million EUR additional grant. The objective of the response is to mitigate infection rates, mortalities, and food shortages in the 229 target villages. To ensure the transparency and community ownership to the COVID-19 response, the funds are channelled through the Village Development Fund mechanism established by LAO/030 Project since 2017. This means that the village, district and provincial authorities are cooperating on the need identification, procurement, and implementation through already established mechanisms based on participatory principles.
Staff from the provincial Planning and Investment Department confirm villagers’ identity and entitlements, © LuxDev
Village, government and project representatives keep track on the distribution to ensure compliance with the community’s need assessment, © LuxDev
Various relevant community-led health and food security interventions were identified, which can potentially be supported depending on the local needs, including:
Cash transfer to destitute households for immediate relief;
- Food distribution to households facing severe food shortage and lacking the means to buy food until the next harvest;
- Distribution of soap, disinfectants and backpack sprayers for disinfection of houses;
- Materials for isolating sick or suspected sick people in schools or community halls, such as bedding, nails, plastic sheeting, individual water containers, mosquito netting;
- Water storage containers and water purification where the regular drinking water supply is running low;
- Facemasks and gloves for people taking care of sick or isolated people;
- Emergency funds for hospitalization, transport, and food during hospitalization in case of referral of sick people to health facilities; and
- Awareness raising and Information material on COVID-19 prevention and control.
According to the community priorities, most of the funds are used for food supplies to help the most vulnerable families cope with food shortages exacerbated by the economic fallouts of the pandemic. In comparison, about one quarter of the funds are allocated for hygiene purposes and the prevention of other diseases to help the villages prevent and control a potential COVID outbreak.
Chomsee Community school, built in 2019 with support of LAO/030 and the site of the food and cash distribution to the most vulnerable families of the village, © LuxDev
Community leaders from each of the villages have identified the families most in need of support. This helps ensure that the support goes to the families most in need. They are grouped into destitute, severely food deficient, and food vulnerable households, and are accordingly supported to different extents. On average across the 229 target villages, an estimated 25 % of the population will receive some level of food support, while the 1-2 % destitute families will in addition receive a cash transfer of about 40 EUR for imminent needs. For the general population, the support focuses on ensuring that the communities have access to hygiene products and knowledge on how prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the families, schools, public offices and health centres.
Aerial photo of Chomsee Village in Bokeo Province. To the right, the new Luxembourg funded school where the rice and cash transfer was organised in August 2020, © LuxDev
The COVID-19 situation and the response by the LAO/030 Project, local authorities, and the communities, have increased the awareness of the need for better disaster preparedness, whether linked to pandemics, natural disasters, or long-term climate impacts. As such, it is likely that disaster preparedness will be an important consideration for future support to local and national development planning.↑ To the top