BANGKOK – The policies of the government of Laos to promote economic growth and alleviate poverty are proving to be counterproductive as they are undermining the rights of poor and marginalized groups, the United Nations warned on Thursday.
Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who concluded an 11-day official tour of the country, highlighted the growth of the country’s economy – above 7 percent in the last decade, according to the World Bank – but said that it was achieved at the cost of destroying livelihoods and consolidating the vulnerability of people, who are deprived access to land and other resources.
“Lao PDR has made impressive progress, halving the number of those living below the poverty line, raising school enrolment rates, and expanding access to electricity and sanitation. However, rapid economic growth has not led to a commensurate reduction in poverty,” he said.
“Unfortunately, many government policies seem more focused on ticking boxes and improving GDP numbers than making meaningful changes to the lives of Lao people,” Alston added.
“The Government’s single-minded focus on large infrastructure projects, resource extraction, and foreign investment has created all too few jobs for Lao people, generated large debt repayment obligations, and disproportionately benefited wealthy elites,” said the UN expert.
According to Alston, a large part of the country has not benefited from economic growth, and identified women, ethnic minorities and the rural population as the worst-affected groups.
He also said that the strict control that the communist regime exerts on public space, including arrests and disappearances of activists, prevents people from contributing to the eradication of social problems.
“Development partners have often shied away from most of these issues, and the UN itself does not appear to have done what it can to be a voice for the vulnerable and for human rights,” he said.
A quarter of the Laotian population lives below the poverty line and 80 percent survive on less than $2.5 a day, according to the UN.
“If the Government can be encouraged to adopt policies of transparency, meaningful participation, and genuine public dialogue, a huge amount could be accomplished in terms of promoting sustainable development and alleviating poverty,” stressed Alston.