Overview of Australia's aid program to Laos

How we are helping

2017-18 Total Australian ODA Estimated Outcome
$43.1 million

2018-19 Bilateral Budget Estimate
$20.6 million

2018-19 Total Australian ODA Estimate
$41.3 million

Australia and Laos have a warm, consistent and strong bilateral relationship, built on Australia's development assistance, the contribution of Australian businesses, and growing people-to-people links.

Laos is a Least Developed Country, and one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Approximately 23 per cent of its population lives under the national poverty line (2012) and poverty is almost three times higher in rural areas, compared to urban areas. Key development challenges include limited access to quality education services, skills shortages, and constraints to the development of the private sector.

In 2018-19, the Australian Government will provide an estimated $41.3 million in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Laos. This includes an estimated $20.6 in bilateral funding, managed by DFAT.

Australia's ODA to Laos aims to help the Lao Government lift its people out of poverty, and develop as a prosperous and stable neighbour that can contribute constructively to the region. This objective is consistent with the themes of the Australian Foreign Policy White Paper — contributing to global efforts to reduce poverty, alleviate suffering and promote sustainable development; and building our influence through education, including scholarships.

DFAT-implemented ODA to Laos focuses on:

  • Improving access to quality basic education for disadvantaged girls and boys.
  • Improving Laos' human resources through scholarships, training and organisational capacity building.
  • Strengthening Laos' trade regime and developing a more competitive private sector.

Details of these focus areas are outlined in the Aid Investment Plan.

Objective 1: More disadvantaged girls and boys complete a quality basic education

An inadequately educated workforce is a central obstacle to development, employment, and investment in Laos. Implementation of ASEAN Economic Community obligations in relation to freer movement of trade, investment and labour will further increase competitive pressures facing Laos. Education is therefore a priority for the Lao Government and for Australia's aid program.

Building on our longstanding investments, and leadership in the sector, Australia continues to invest in education in Laos through the Basic Education Quality and Access in Laos (BEQUAL) program. BEQUAL priorities 66 of the most educationally disadvantaged districts to:

  • increase student participation
  • improve the availability of quality teaching (e.g. by providing professional development to existing primary school teachers and teacher educators; and training 520 ethnic males and females to become teachers)
  • improve learning environments (e.g. by providing quality teaching and learning materials and upgrading school infrastructure).

Investments improving basic education participation and quality

Objective 2: Improving Laos’ human resources through scholarships, training and organisational capacity building

Strengthened human resources are essential to Laos' future economic growth and competitiveness and its ability to provide its citizens with the social services required for equitable development. Australian aid supports a human resource development program which builds on the positive results of our longstanding scholarships program (for study in Australia and in Laos).

To address labour market needs, our focus will be on scholarships and training for individuals, as well as supporting Laos to make better use of its existing skilled human resources.

Investments improving human resources in Laos

Objective 3: A stronger trade regime and more competitive private sector

Australia's aid program continues to help Laos integrate into the regional and multilateral trading system. After supporting Laos' accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2013, current work focuses on improving the quality and sustainability of Laos' trade and investment growth, through targeted efforts to:

  • support Laos to implement its WTO commitments;
  • reduce the costs of trade by simplifying procedures at borders; and
  • improve labour standards and skills in export industries such as garments manufacturing.

We also provide financial and advisory support to businesses operating in Laos to improve their competitiveness and ability to export, with a particular focus on women entrepreneurs.

Through the Trade Development Facility Phase II, we work to improve the business climate by supporting enhanced public-private engagement and strengthening women-led business initiatives.

Investments strengthening the trade regime and private sector competitiveness

Legacy rural development investments

We will continue to support a number of existing rural development investments under our Aid Investment Plan until their conclusion in June 2019. These investments will provide better access to financial services, and reduce unexploded ordnance contamination.

Investments supporting rural development

Our results

In 2016-17, Australian aid to Laos:

  • supported 3,177 students (1,505 girls and 1,672 boys) from non-Lao speaking homes to prepare for Grade One;
  • repaired and rehabilitated 636 classrooms in 389 schools;
  • awarded 40 Masters scholarships to teacher educators to study in Laos;
  • awarded 364 scholarships to young women and men from remote areas to train as teachers;
  • provided 140,000 primary children (68,600 girls) with mid-morning snacks or lunch to encourage school attendance;
  • completed construction of 102 school water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, benefiting more than 10,318 school children (including 5,145 girls);
  • provided 32 Australia Awards scholarships, including to 22 female recipients;
  • provided scholarships to 70 Lao students to undertake undergraduate courses in Laos. 39 were female;
  • supported 98 companies to improve their competitiveness;
  • provided access to a village bank for 4,355 men and women;
  • trained 3,045 individuals in financial literacy, among them 1,423 women;
  • increased access to financial services for 95,481 people (51 per cent female); and
  • helped clear 180 hectares of UXO contaminated land, benefiting over 17,699 people.
Last Updated: 21 September 2018
A group of women plant paddy rice seedlings in a field near Sekong, Laos
A group of women plant paddy rice seedlings in a field near Sekong, Laos (credit: DFAT).
A young boy receives physiotherapy
A young boy receives physiotherapy following an accident that resulted in severe spinal injuries (credit: DFAT).
A man in a canoe, with a bridge in the background
The Friendship bridge built with Australian funding and completed and opened in 1994, crossing the Mekong River and connecting Thailand to Laos (credit: DFAT).