Sustainable Development Goals

In September 2015, the UN General Assembly released the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They were designed to build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)1  and intended to drive action in important areas by 2030, leaving no one behind. These goals were broken down into 169 targets and 232 indicators.2

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Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs are intended to apply to all countries, regardless of their level of development. They still maintain the social aims of the previous goals, but now have more focus on the urgent environmental challenges facing the world. As with the MDGs, the Government of Lao PDR will again localise these goals to make them more relevant to the situation in Laos and has already an extra SDG to reduce the impact of remaining land mines (UXOs) in the country.3

Transition from the SDGs to the MDGS in Laos

By the end of 2015, the Lao PDR had used the Millennium Development Agenda to halve poverty, malnourishment, and child mortality rates, as well achieve almost universal primary school enrolment. However, despite meeting targets for eight of the nine local MDGs, none of the goals were met in full.4

Laos had made strong efforts to adapt the MDGs and align them with each National Socio-Economic Development Plans during this time but in many ways this was difficult. For example:

  • The estimated yearly cost of implementing the MDGs was almost US $1.3 billion, which is a lot of finance to access.5
  • Lao is a low-income, landlocked country, and there are many different ethnic groups who live in remote areas and speak different languages. Because they work mainly in subsistence agriculture, it is a big challenge to improve their development outcomes.6
  • The approaches the government used to develop the economy quickly also created negative impacts. In areas where people rely on natural resources, access to health and education is lower, especially for women. Also, rapid growth had not resulted in malnutrition and stunting in children being reduced.7 



    A street in Savannakhet, Laos. Source: Wikipedia Commons – Chaoborus (own work)GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

In 2015 and 2016, Laos reflected on these challenges through a national planning process and developed the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2016 -2020).8 They focused this plan on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as graduating from Least Developed Country Status by 2020.9

Localization of the SDGs

Lao PDR is one of the fastest growing economies in the East Asia and Pacific region but the growth is unequal and a lot of it is based on the exploitation of natural resources, including hydropower, mining and agro-forestry. This growth has resulted in a rapid loss of forest cover and biodiversity.10

Impacts from climate-related events, such as floods, droughts, and even heavy frosts are much larger in Laos than other countries because there is a large number of people that live in rural areas, who depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Livestock deaths and crop failures, disease outbreaks, and being isolated when roads get damaged make some people economically and socially vulnerable.11

Because Laos was not able to meet all the MDGs and these problems occur, the Government of Laos has showed a lot of interest in making sure the SDGs fit the Laos context more effectively. A National Steering Committee has been used to development national plans to implement the SDGs as quickly as possible. This includes the 8th NSEDP 2016-2020; the Ten Year Development Strategy 2016-2025; and Vision 2030. These plans all are designed to meet SDG Targets and Indicators.12

For example, the 8th NSEDP (2016-2020) is designed to achieve results and 60% of its indicators are very close to the SDGs. Some SDGs are also focused on things that Laos needs for sustainable development like better infrastructure, such as roads internet and phone connections to make it easy to communicate with remote areas and with other countries, as well as making sure rural people can get benefits from economic development.

Laos is making sure that all SDGs take into account local conditions and the government will presented the results of this localization process to the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in mid-2018 as part of a Voluntary National Review. Some of the local factors that have been considered are outlined below for each local SDG.13

Proposed Lao Sustainable Development GoalBaseline SummarySummary of the local context
The poverty rate in 2015 had reduced to 23%, however, still 1/3 of people in upland areas were poor compared to 1/5 in lowland areas.Because there are women, children and non-Lao-Tai groups working agriculture in remote areas who are vulnerable to disasters, the indicators for resilience in SDG Target 1.5 need to be stronger.
In 2015, 1/5 of Lao people were undernourished, and 35% of children under 5 stunted. Only 5% of young children access enough nutrition.The data collected about access to food and nutrition, and the productivity of small-scale farmers needs to be improved and collected more often, especially for rural and highland areas.
Child and maternal mortality rates were both halved by 2015 but there are remaining challenges related to diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, as well as increasing deaths from road accidents. The new Lao Social Indicator Survey is picking up many indiscrepancies in previously reported health data and the implementation of activities to meet SDG 3 targets are still reliant of external sources of funding.
In 2015, 98.8% of children were enrolled in primary school, but the completion rate for lower secondary school was only 61%.In the education sector self-reported data and survey data often produce different results. In rural areas, the quality of education, teaching and learning environments is low and this contributes to Lao having a shortage of skilled workers.
In 2015, Laos had a relatively high ratio (27.5%) of female members of parliament, although less (5%) with decision making power. Women are more likely to be illiterate or conduct unpaid household work and 20% of women are married and have a child by age 18.The administrative and data systems to collect information about issues such as adolescent pregnancy, violence, access to land and livelihood options, as well has health and education services are not well developed for marginalised women and girls including migrant workers and ethnic minorities.
In 2015, for the 24% of households without access to safe drinking water, 79% of water collectors were women. Open defecation is used by 23% of households and rural areas are 60% less likely to have sanitation coverage.The capacity for the Lao PDR to measure both 'safely managed' water and sanitation, as well as water quality and water-use efficiency is very low and efforts are being made the develop this. The rapid development of hydropower demands make this more difficult.
In 2015, 84% of the population had access to electricity, with 93% of this from renewable sources (mainly hydropower) Hydropower is renewable, however has impacts which affect the achievement of other SDGs.
In 2016, Lao had 5.5% per capita annual economic growth, however all of the 70% of Lao workers in agriculture, as well as 84% of Lao workers in general had vulnerable employment in 2010.Less than 20% of Lao people work in the formal sector and in some cases different indicators are needed to monitor SDG targets, such as unpaid family workers & child labour that don't fit the SDG indicators. Skills development programs and social protection for remote informal workers are lacking.
In 2015, 85% of Lao villages had access to an all-season road and 53% had access to a mobile phone. However, 70% of workers are dependent on agriculture, while only 25% of the Lao GDP is accessed from this sector.Laos has challenges in monitoring the manufacturing industries due to the high proportion of the population working in the informal sector and will require special surveys to learn more about this.
In 2015, the national poverty rate was 23%, however, economic growth is reducing poverty 4 times faster in urban areas than rural areas. Poverty is actually increasing in some rural areas. Although the need for inclusive growth is very strong in Laos, the monitoring of social protection indicators faces many barriers, especially for non-financial types of inequality (such as literacy of nutrition)
In 2015, 1/3 of the Laos population was urbanised, with an annual growth of 4.5% coming mostly from other parts of Laos. Air pollution in cities is 2nd highest for all ASEAN countries and 84% still use unclean cooking fuels.Rural-urban migration is increasing in Laos and some SDG 11 indicators are difficult to measure contextually. For example, non-durable housing in Laos can be culturally appropriate and public transportation indicators for SDG 11 are not a good fit to the Lao context.
In 2015, people in Lao cities produced 256 kg of waste with only 10% of this recycled. All cities in Laos have incomplete waste collection servicesSustainable consumption and production (SCP) is a relatively new concept in Laos and many policy frameworks and measurements systems need development and awareness raising.
In the last 25 years, Laos has experienced 11 major climate events affecting 430,000 people and there is a noticeable increase.The country context in Laos means that climate change impacts are predicted to be severe and the global indicators for resilience and adaptive capacity will need to be made stronger and integrated across all levels of government.
Lao's freshwater fisheries are very biodiverse contributing 7% of the value of the Lao GDP.Laos is a landlocked country so SDG 14 has been redefined to focus on aquatic resources as opposed to coastal and marine resources. Several factors, especially dam construction have introduced significant threats to fish populations.
In 2012, Lao forest cover was at 40%. In 2017, 209 species were threatened up from 115 in 2008. Many rural (29%) and upland (37%) villages have reported land degradation. Lao forests are highly important to sustainable development in Laos but the inconsistencies in the way forest cover and sustainable management is defined in the country limits how effectively the SDGs can be applied at the moment.
In 2016, the Lao Corruption Perception Index was 123 out of 176 countries. In the 3 years from 2012-2014, 455 victims of human trafficking were returned to Lao with 4 in 5 of these victims under 18. Only 75% of Lao children under 5 have had their births registered.Administrative systems in Laos needed to greatly improved to monitor sensitive indicators on violence, trafficking, and child abuse, and there are several factors that limit how well indicators related to corruption, bribery and rule of law can be implemented.
In 2015 Laos received US$73 million in Overseas Development Assistance at 4% of total GDP.In Laos, budgets for critical health services and the removal of UXOs are still highly dependent on external funding
In 2015, 80,000,000 bombs remain unexploded and UXOs claimed 42 lives, including 19 children, which is and 85% reduction since 10 years ago.The Government of Laos has again added an extra goal (SDG 18) to target the impact of landmines. Because of limited budgets, the efficiency of mine removal aims to be improved and the needs of UXO survivors needs to be integrated into other goals.

Means of Implementation for the SDGs

The 8th NSEDP (2016–2020) aims for Laos to graduate from ‘least developed’ status as it will enable the country to show it is capable of managing types of development finance that are currently more difficult to access. It has outlined these plans in the Vientiane Declaration on Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (2016-2025).14 The Government of Laos has also completed a Development Finance and Aid Assessment (DFAA) to better understand, which financial resources are best to use to meet the SDG Targets, such as grants, soft loans, or beneficial trade relationships.

This is an issue common to many countries and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda15 is used internationally to show developing countries how to be more strategic when accessing  public and private finance to achieve the SDGs while reducing public debt.

It is estimated that the Lao PDR will need USD 27 billion to implement the 8th NSEDP over five years and over half of this will need to come from private investment. If bank lending is included, this rises to more than 75%. Government revenue and Official Development Assistance (ODA) is expected to contribute less than a quarter of these funds. Laos will increasingly need to align its development ambitions with the need of the private sector.16

Lao will need to leverage their own finances with the support of foreign investment to achieve the SDGs, especially for social outcomes in the education and health sectors, which are still heavily reliant on ODA.17

An agreement between the UN and the Government of Laos prioritises18 that for the 10 years after 2015, ODA will focus on four main areas including the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as food and nutrition security; green growth, and climate change and disaster preparedness.19 

These priorities are outlined in a country analysis, which was used to development the agreement. This framework for ODA intends to distributing the benefits of development more equitably.20 Donor countries including Australia, the European Union, France, Germany, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the United States, who will co-ordinate their support to the Lao Government through the UN. The break down for how ODA was applied for 2016 & 2017 is shown in the chart below.21

Chart created by ODL. Source: The United Nations in the Lao PDR. 2017. “2016 Progress Report: United Nations Development Assistance Framework in Lao PDR.” 

The ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and other forms of regional or South South co-operation22 will also play a role in Laos meeting the SDGs, particularly for transboundary issues such as the development of hydropower projects or the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions. Regional initiaiitves such as the AIIB, led by China, for example, may complement ODA has a commercial focus of economic co-operation without the conditions attached to loans from other development banks.23 The AIIB is likely to have an influence on how goals related to energy (SDG 7), economic growth (SDG 8), infrastructure (SDG 9), urban development (SDG 11), climate action (SDG 13), as well as development partnerships (SDG 17) are implemented.24

Monitoring and Evaluation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda

For the 8th NSEDP (2016-2020), the Ministry of Planning and Investment and Lao Statistics Bureau have developed a results-based Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, with 60% of its indicators aligned to tracking progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. 

However, the national capacity to implement this framework is limited, and the data required is often unavailable or can be unreliable.25 Currently the Government of Laos collects three types of data to develop its indicators including government administrative data, calculations based on publicly available data, as well as data taken from international agencies.26

The monitoring and evaluation framework needed to balance the affordability of different types of data collection methods with the government budget and it will be focused on meeting localised goals rather than the Global Goals. In many cases it was required to be pragmatic and choose indicators based on how easy they are to measure rather than their outcomes. These decisions were made to ensure that support to collect data was sustainable and appropriate for Lao’s institutional capacity.27

One approach the Government of Laos is taking is to upgrade the Lao Social Indicator Survey (LSIS). This is a nation-wide household survey, which will now generate data across all 18 provinces, disaggregated by age, residence, gender, wealth and ethnicity. It will provide baseline data for the 8th NSEDP and the SDGs. It will be used to influence how the Government of Lao sets policies and prioritizes resources for meeting the SDGs in a way that benefits all citizens.28

Related to the Sustainable Development Goals


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