Improving living standards for families in Laos, which is one of the poorest countries in Asia, is only possible if children are given the opportunity to reach their full potential. Research has shown that adults who were stunted as children can expect to earn 20 percent less than adults who grew up with a healthy diet. This loss of productivity, coupled with the expenditure incurred in treating preventable disease, is a major hurdle as Laos tries to climb out of the ranks of the world’s least developed countries.
I urge Australians to do their bit by supporting organisations that are working in Laos to address the hunger issue in a very practical way. While governments work at the top level, organisations such as ChildFund Australia are on the ground working in direct partnership with communities like Somphanh’s, who live each day trying to provide enough food for their children.
In Nonghet district, Xieng Khouang – a province in Laos with some of the highest rates of child hunger – ChildFund has begun nutrition programs in a number of villages. These community-based solutions include practical steps like ensuring healthcare workers have enough equipment to measure babies for signs of malnutrition. ChildFund is also working directly with mothers to ensure they know which foods their children should be eating, as well as the best ways to source and prepare these foods. Meanwhile, the slow process of UXO clearance will over time release new tracts of safe agricultural land.
In the last 45 years we have already seen two generations affected by the war and its aftermath. Now is the time to ensure children in Laos can reach their potential and end the cycle of hunger and poverty.
Tim Fischer AC is a former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and a current envoy for ChildFund Australia.