Laos has racked up some commendable successes: gross domestic product has grown by an average of 7 percent year-on-year over the past decade; poverty was halved by 2015 — in line with the Millennium Development Goals; and hunger is down and people are living longer, healthier lives.
Yet the country faces serious challenges: An estimated 44 percent of children under 5 are stunted, and 27 percent are severely underweight. Despite a significant reduction, the number of maternal deaths remains high. Inequality is on the rise, and there are significant challenges surrounding environmental sustainability and ridding the country of unexploded ordnance that still kills, maims and presents an impediment to development.
Assistance from all sources — and in all forms — remains vital for Laos to tackle these challenges, and to meet its main aim of graduating from least developed country status by 2020.
In this context the Vientiane partnership declaration is a crucial tool to ensure all assistance is coordinated, in line with national development plans, and deployed in the smartest possible way for the maximum possible impact.
In line with global principles of effective development cooperation, the declaration highlights that official development assistance, or traditional aid, must be used wisely to accelerate broader, systemic change. This means that all development cooperation should be nationally owned and aligned with country’s development priorities in ways that link economic, human and environmental benefits simultaneously.
Efforts to achieve this could include more support to decision makers in key ministries on management and leadership. It could also include more regular policy dialogue to share ideas on what works best, as well as further engagement with local communities to help them raise questions about the services they need.
The declaration also places a strong emphasis on boosting domestic revenues, increasing cooperation with other developing countries and regional partners, upping knowledge and technology transfer, and closer work with business and civil society.
It includes clear, concrete commitments to boost local development planning, fight corruption, build an inclusive financial sector and build on knowledge sharing networks, which could include a mechanism to bring about the development, transfer and dissemination of clean and environmentally sound technologies.
Around 30 to 40 OECD member countries and developing countries are set to sign up, alongside a range of international organizations. Signatories should work together on a fully resourced implementation plan by September 2016.
The partnership declaration is a solid, effective framework to bring about the maximum impact from all development support in Laos for the next 10 years. If inclusive partnerships are built and kept for the long term, it could just mark a “step change” in development cooperation for the country.
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Kaarina Immonen is the U.N. resident coordinator and UNDP representative in Laos. She began her career in the United Nations in 1990. Her most recent appointment before her arrival to Laos was as deputy special representative of the secretary-general for the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, a post she held from December 2012 to early 2014. She also served as U.N. resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator during her time in the Central African Republic. She has also worked in Moldova, Russian Federation, Georgia, Cambodia and Vietnam.
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