Many people know little about Laos, or even where to locate it on a map. Some people think of Laos as a distant war-torn country. Others may envision the low resonating chants of monks, Buddha-filled pagodas, or the sweet, contented smiles of the Lao people. However, Laos is plagued by economic hardship and instability. It is considered one of the least developed countries in the world.
- The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and Myanmar and China to the northwest.
- Laos is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia with subsistence agriculture, (mostly subsistence rice farming) employing an estimated 75% of the population. (U.S. Department of State, Nov. 30, 2010)
- Laos is slightly larger than Utah and most of the country is mountainous and thickly forested.
- Laos has one of the lowest population densities in Asia, with approximately 11 people per square mile.
- The weather is warm and has two seasons: a rainy season (May to October or early November) and a dry season (Late November or December to April).
History and Culture:
- Modern Laos was a French protectorate until 1949 when it gained independence.
- By the end of Vietnam War, Laos had the notoriety of being the most bombed country per capita in the history of warfare. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of ordnance over Laos, the equivalent of one planeload every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years. (World Vision, March 20009) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/audio/2008/dec/03/cluster-bomb-laos
- Lao, the official language, is tonal and is similar to Thai. It shares the Thai written script.
- Approximately 74.1% of the populations earn less than $2 USD per day.
- The country’s per capita income in 2010 was approximately $986 USD (U.S. Department of State, Nov. 30, 2010)
- A 2005 World Bank study reported that 37% of educated Laotians lived abroad, putting the country in fifth place for worst brain drain.
- In rural areas, most Lao people live in Lao traditional houses, built of wood and raised off the ground on stilts.
- In 2008 the infant mortality rate (the number of infants dying before reaching one year of age, per 1,000 live births) was 48 (World Bank). Life expectancy is 65 (UNICEF 2008).
- Many villagers have no access to quality healthcare and it is impossible to afford. Traditional medicine is commonly practiced.
- The country’s geography plays a significant role in defining access to healthcare. In rural areas, people are forced to walk long distances to seek medical treatment.
- Maternal mortality rates are dramatically high in rural and remote areas where women tend to deliver at home and benefit from neither pre nor post natal care.
A little more than half of the population has access to a water supply and safe clean drinking water, and less than half has access to improved sanitation facilities. (UN HDR 2009, 2009 World Population Data Sheet, UN population division, UNICEF, World Bank, National Statistics Centre)