Sustainable Development Banner

Posted November 1998

Special: Empowering the rural disabled in Asia and the Pacific
Disabled people in rural areas of Lao PDR
from "Case studies: Strategies for the rural disabled in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam" by Johanne Hanko (FAO, 1998). For a copy of the report, contact John Rouse, SDA/FAO (e-mail:

Introduction | Women | Cambodia 1 | Cambodia 2 | Lao PDR | Sri Lanka | Thailand 1 | Thailand 2 | Vietnam 1 | Vietnam 2 | Agroindustry | Horticulture | Strategies


Lao PDR has an estimated 4.58 million people and an average growth of seven percent per annum with over two thirds of the population living in rural areas most of them involved in subsistence agriculture. Until 1986, people in Laos were assigned career tracks by the centralized government. Today, jobs are selected on market-based economy; there is a shortage of skilled labour and a high percentage of low educated people. It is estimated that 77 percent of the population of the age of 15 has less than a junior high school level of education. Many of them are at risk of turning to the sex trade and slave labour industries in Lao PDR and Thailand. Problems need to be specifically identified, and methods must be developed to help this growing population and provide youth vocational training and rehabilitation.

Furthermore, many individuals have become disabled not only from land mines but also from diseases such as leprosy and polio. About half of the children less than 5 years of age suffer from malnutrition with a lack of basic health, sanitation, birth spacing and poor nutritional services for the population in general. Diarrhea, respiratory and intestinal diseases are widespread, along with virulent strains of malaria. These are all factors contributing to serious childhood diseases often leading to permanent disabilities. According to a survey made by the World Bank in 1995, about 46 percent of the Lao population is living under the poverty line with 53 percent in rural areas as compared to 24 percent in urban areas. Poor roads and transport infrastructure make food distribution and service accessibility very difficult. World Bank study shows that one third of all villages or 22 percent of the population is not accessible by vehicle, in the northern parts, this percentage is estimated at 55 percent. All these factors are major contributors to those multiple avoidable disabilities.

As in many other developing countries, disabled people are often excluded from society because they are thought incapable of contributing to their family or community life. They are often hidden by the family. They receive no therapy or rehabilitation, and therefore have few opportunities for finding work. Some health care is made available through rehabilitation workers along with special vocational training.

The major earnings for Lao PDR is in wood-based products and hydropower. Other exports include garments, although there is strong international competition in this sector, and motorcycles.

Agriculture, agro-industry and natural resources

Agriculture in Lao PDR is responsible for over 50 percent of the GDP. Because subsistence farming is the main occupation, agriculture is the principal economic sector, rice being the staple crop. Approximately 80 percent of the work force is engaged in activities related to agriculture including livestock, fisheries and forestry. According to the World Bank, only six percent of Laos's total land area was used for pasture and crops in 1993. Over 80 percent of the cultivated land is devoted to rice. There remains a shortage for a period of approximately 3 months, where people must turn to other products such as maize, cassava and taro for subsistence.

Lao, having the highest potential land/person in the region, can offer large and unexploited fertile land with favorable climatic conditions, particularly in the boloven basaltic plateau. This may offer interesting opportunities for low-intensive investment in the agro-processing industry for export of annual and perennial crops. Favorable conditions for investment have been created with the improvement of National Roads linking major provinces especially in the import-substitution agro-processing industries. A number of irrigation projects are being implemented to promote lowland cultivation of rice so that the country may reach self-sufficiency.

The most promising crop and a major export is coffee. In 1992, coffee accounted for about 80 percent of the export value in the agricultural sector. Other crops include maize, starchy roots, soybeans, mungbeans, peanuts, tobacco, cotton, ground nuts, sugar cane and tea. There is a sizable livestock holding within Lao. In 1993, an estimated one million heads of buffaloes and cattle were present. Pig raising is another important sector with an estimated 1.6 million head. Poultry counted for 10 million. There are also some sheep and goats.

Forests are under protection against total depletion, and Lao retains the highest ratio of forest to total area in Asia. Forests cover about 47 percent of the country whereas an estimated 300,000 hectares are lost annually. The Government is now encouraging the export of wood products to replace lumber as the main export earner of Lao PDR. There is however a shortage of capital and technical skill required for full implementation of the programme.

Mineral resources are rich in gemstones such as sapphire, zircon, amethyst, gold, iron ore, tin, gravel, gypsum, salt and small coal. Petroleum and gas exploration is under way.

With such a diversity of resources and opportunities, adapted work for the disabled can be developed.

Government policies, laws, regulations and their implementation

The Labour law of Lao PDR was promulgated based on Article 53, Point number one of the Constitution of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and pursuant to the resolution of the third ordinary session of the National Assembly (111 legislature) on the adoption of the amended Labour Law No. 002/NA, dated 14 March 1994. No provisions were made in the labour Code for the employment of disabled persons. Special provisions were made for women and children and for people who become disabled during the course of their employment. Article 53, in case of disability, reads as follows: "In case of disability or partial physical dismemberment from occupation accidents or diseases, or even death, employers will pay allowances to the victims or their rightful heirs in accordance with the State's rule".

There is at present no legislation in support of disabled persons. The National Committee for persons with Disabilities of the Lao People's Democratic Republic is drafting legislation for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and National policies to promote the integration of this excluded group into society. This draft is to be submitted and approved by the National Assembly.

Institutions, public and non-government organizations, associations (local and international)

Several local and international organizations including NGOs and GOs are active in Lao PDR. Some of these organizations are listed in Annex 2. Although there are very few organizations dealing exclusively with the disabled population, a number of international organizations are including disabled persons within their community development projects. These include:

Education and training

Education in general is very poor. A World Bank study conducted in 1995 estimates that 57 percent of the adult population is illiterate. There is a shortage of schools, lack of textbooks and generally poorly qualified teachers. Enrollment rates in primary schools for 1995 were estimated at 60 percent with a 30 percent completion rate. Approximately 55 percent of households have access to complete 5 years of primary schooling. Of these, World Bank studies of 1995 further says that only 50 percent have access to lower secondary education whereas tertiary training is inadequate because of poor information technology and accountancy. The main cause for low enrollment and even lower completion rate is poverty and deficiency especially for those persons living in rural areas. Financial support is needed to ensure basic education. To help solve the problem, several GOs and various NGOs give funding and technical assistance. For example, World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) help promote and implement various development projects on the organizing and reforming of education. International organizations such as UNESCO, UNICEF and NGOs have assisted and cooperated in training teaching personnel in educational management and the production of teaching and learning materials.

Training towards employment for non-disabled and disabled persons is required to prepare these people for a service and for the industrial sector for which they are ill equipped. The non-formal education department, under the Ministry of Education, is organizing curriculum development with teachers' guides, teaching and learning material, advice for curriculum implementation and maintenance for all materials.

The education strategy issued by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party in 1987 aims at providing all people with an opportunity to acquire education. The objective is to eradicate illiteracy and to organize and stimulate complementary education. Illiteracy was almost eradicated in 1984. However, in 1987, retention rates of pupils up to grade 5 was only 40 percent.

It is important to reach all of the people in Lao PDR including those living in remote areas such as in the mountainous regions. Special training is a priority for teachers educating ethnic minorities and other minority and disadvantaged groups. According to the Lao PDR government, the standard of living can be raised with a good primary education curriculum and the use of contributions from local populations in the construction of schools and provisions of school materials and equipment. Each community must promote education to the population. Organizations such as the youth and women's union must participate in the literacy campaign and in the complementary education programmes. In the reform of education, special attention has been given to training of teachers. Laos PDR has started conducting some workshops for the training of literacy personnel during the years 1992 and 1993. Furthermore, the Institute of Research in Education Services has carried out a project on the production of low cost teaching materials. Special materials were published specifically targeting the farmers. These publications introduced agriculture, cattle and other related topics. Continuing education was initiated in 1992.

Programmes, projects and activities

World Concern organization has been very active in helping those communities in remote areas. One example is the Luang Namtha Community Development project.

Luang Namtha Community is one of the poorest and most isolated provinces in the country. They have depended on slash-and-burn agriculture for many years, which has nearly destroyed the soil. Most children and adults are illiterate. Preventable diseases run rampant. World Concern is helping families by implementing a community development project addressing sustainable agriculture, primary health care, sanitation, education and income generation needs.

Another project initiated by World Concern is the Salavan Water Supply and Sanitation project. For almost five months a year, this region receives no rainfall. Those who live far from the major rivers are forced to depend on soak holes from dry riverbeds. The lack of clean water has resulted in higher rates of death among infants and increased the spread of cholera. An estimated 27,000 families in 135 villages will benefit from the wells that are being drilled. World Concern is also providing public health services, including immunizations, malaria prevention and sanitation, youth skills training and education.

The Lumen Mundi Association for the Rehabilitation of Visually Handicapped in Developing Countries has set up a school for the blind in Vientiane along with training of Laotian technicians for the maintenance and repair of medical and health care equipment. Funds were provided by private donations.

Handicap International has started some activities on 1 June 1996. They had been requested by the P.N.U.D. (Programme des Nations Unies pour le Developpement) to make a study on the socio-economical impact of unexploded devices (bombs, rockets, grenades...) in Laos. In the future, they intend to set up their more traditional activities dealing in prosthesis, kinesitherapy.


The market of Lao PDR can be identified as having a wide range of potential employment. Subsistence farming is still very important, agriculture including forestry and fishing contributed 56.3 percent of the GDP in 1993. Industry is fast developing and according to the Asian Development Bank, it had reached 18.9 percent of the GDP in 1995. Key growth sectors can be identified as textiles and garment manufacturing, food processing and low technology assembling. Textiles and garments had already, in 1992, surpassed the output of electricity for Laos. Services are also increasing contributing 24.6 percent of the GDP in 1995.

As an alternative to subsistence farming, the Government has set up policies to increase livestock production and fishpond cultivation. Export products including animal products must gain access to neighboring countries because the domestic market is very limited. The composition of the market as per 1993 can be pictured as follows:

LAO PDR Market 1993

Future development priorities have been identified by the Government of Lao PDR. The following sectors and potential income generating activities should be further studied to establish opportunities for disabled persons seeking employment.

Empowering the rural disabled: Introduction | Women | Cambodia 1 | Cambodia 2 | Lao PDR | Sri Lanka | Thailand 1 | Thailand 2 | Vietnam 1 | Vietnam 2 | Agroindustry | Horticulture | Strategies

Back to Top FAO Homepage