6th Annual Nutrition Forum, 2021

Remarks by Ms. Sara Sekkenes, United Nations Resident Coordinator

Your Excellency, Mr. Sonexay Siphandone, Deputy Prime Minister of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Minister of Planning and Investment,

Your Excellency, Ms. Ina Marčiulionytė, Head of the European Union Delegation to the Lao PDR,

Your Excellency, Mr. Peter M. Haymond, Ambassador of the United States to the Lao PDR

Distinguished Governors,

National and provisional Government representatives,

Dear nutrition development partners, and

Members of the media,

It is an honour for me to be here today representing the United Nations country team at the 6th Annual Nutrition Forum. The event presents an important opportunity not only to reflect on our achievements in strengthening nutrition among the population, but also to look ahead and identify priority actions in the next five years to help ensure the nutritional well-being of target populations in Lao PDR with a particular focus on women and children.

A nutritious diet is essential to lead healthy and productive lives and emphasized under the 2030 Agenda. Yet, for far too many, this remains out of reach as barriers at both global and national levels keep preventing people from accessing good nutrition. The situation has been further compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak as the remedial measures taken to contain the pandemic have also inadvertently led to the loss of livelihoods, disrupted health and nutrition services, as well as food systems across the world. In consequence, this has resulted in most households becoming more vulnerable and exposed to malnutrition, further imposing challenges in achieving SDG nutrition indicators and Lao is no exception to this fact.

Over the last decade, Lao PDR has made great strides in the area of nutrition: the country saw a reduction in stunting rates from 44 per cent in 2011 to 33 in 2017; improvements in exclusive breastfeeding from 40 to almost 45 per cent in the same period, improvement in dietary energy supply from 2407 kcal/capita/day in 2010 to 2722 kcal/capita/day in 2018; and a reduction in poverty head count from 23 per cent in 2012 to 18.3 in 2020. Despite these great achievements, disparities still exist between and within provinces, wealth quintiles, and ethnic groups, while some areas in the country’s nutrition landscape even saw a deterioration: for instance, the worsening of wasting in the country increased from 5.9 in 2011 to 9 per cent in 2017.

The COVID-19 pandemic further poses a significant challenge to improving nutrition in Lao PDR. Year upon year of progress that has been achieved in nutrition is now under risk of stagnation and even worse, of reversal.

With an estimated 30 per cent reduction in nutrition services coverage, it is projected that acute malnutrition could increase by 14.3 per cent as a result of the pandemic. The Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU), which was at 16.6 percent (2015-17), as reported in a joint UN report, is feared to be further aggravated due to the impacts of the pandemic.[1] This will have an impact on the growth and survival of the over 60,000 children under 5 years of age who are at risk of severe acute malnutrition annually. The stakes are high for Lao people, especially women and children, and we must take action to prevent this from imposing lifelong consequences on their well-being. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

The 9th National Socio-economic Development Plan has a clear focus on human capital with the objective of building a workforce with capacities to compete in a global economy, while providing decent livelihoods and boosting equitable growth in the country and nurturing prosperity. The foundation for human capital development starts even before you are born and needs to be further emphasized in children, and the first step is to ensure good nutrition.

It is imperative that we work together to protect, promote and support healthy diets, services and practices that prevents all forms of malnutrition by instituting legislations, making the right policy choices and importantly, ensuring their financing. This will also be emphasized in the new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework currently under development with the Government of Lao PDR, in which nutrition will feature as a key area of collaboration.  

Distinguished guests,

We kicked off the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition in 2016 with Member States committing to undertake 10 years of sustained and coherent implementation of policies, programmes and increased investments in nutrition. Halfway there, the UN Secretary-General further announced the establishment of UN Nutrition[2] last December effectively merging the UN Network for Scaling up Nutrition and the UN system Standing Committee on Nutrition. By harnessing the complementary nature of different entities, including FAO, WHO, IFAD, UNICEF and WFP, UN Nutrition responds to the changing global and country-level nutrition landscape and will increase efficiencies for more integrated and streamlined efforts to end malnutrition. 

To this end, the UN Development System in Lao PDR is contributing to food and nutrition security as one of its top priorities. With combined expertise across key sectors of health, nutrition and food security, water and sanitation, governance and the strengthening of national capacities in these areas, all the agencies mentioned have been dedicated to working with the Government, development partners, the private sector and civil society to improve the health and nutrition status of people in Lao PDR.

This was further emphasized in our response to COVID-19 where the United Nations country team undertook a rapid food security assessment, advocating for public finance allocation to nutrition and health, expanding the regular school feeding despite logistical difficulties, and promoting hygiene practices among local communities focusing on the most vulnerable.

In closing, let me acknowledge the strong leadership of the Government of Lao PDR in addressing malnutrition and their overall efforts in improving the wellbeing for the people in Lao PDR. The UN, with its technical expertise stands ready to support these efforts in further strengthening nutrition for all and to overcome whatever challenges that we may encounter in this joint endeavor.

By working together, we can achieve the SDGs and leave no one behind.

Thank you very much.

 

[1] The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020, by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, 2020.

[2] UN Nutrition will maintain the reporting obligation of the Previous Standing Committee to the ECOSOC.

Speech by
Author
Ms. Sara Sekkenes
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Ms. Sara Sekkenes_Photo
UN entities involved in this initiative
RCO
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office