The Lao government held its two-day monthly meeting in Vientiane Capital from July 23-24 to discuss resolutions to six major problems faced by the country, including dengue fever, African swine fever, and drought.
Laos has begun to face mounting problems in the second half of the year, including a dangerous outbreak of dengue fever, devastating drought, invasive pests, weak currency, and unregulated social media commentary.
The government met to discuss these problems at its monthly meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who called upon every sector of government to instill measures to address these and other issues.
He requested that members of the government take swift action and report on their outcomes to the Prime Minister’s Office by August 15.
The number of cases of dengue fever continues to climb among the Lao population, with more than 14,000 cases recorded across the country, resulting in 33 deaths.
According to the Lao National Center for Laboratory and Epidemiology, the two strains of dengue hitting the country are dengue virus serotypes DEN-2 and DEN-4. Vientiane has seen mostly DEN-2, while southern provinces have had cases of other types. Dengue serotype 2 (DEN-2) can cause hemorrhagic fever, giving rise to a high mortality rate.
A nationwide dengue warning was issued in early July amid increasing dengue fever cases across the country, and experts have been sent from Vientiane to discuss the control of the disease, along with health workers in the south.
The authorities are urging citizens to keep surroundings clean while focusing on destroying mosquitoes and their breeding sites.
African Swine Fever
The first cases of African swine fever (ASF) were reported in Laos last month, with seven outbreaks across villages in Salavanh Province leading to the deaths of 973 animals.
The disease was then detected in Savannakhet, and Vientiane Capital, with Luang Namtha on high alert.
Thailand, China and Vietnam were quick to ban pork imports from Laos following the outbreaks in the country.
African swine flu is not known to transmit across species, meaning the disease is fatal to pigs but does not harm human beings.
Laos, among other Southeast Asian nations, is experiencing an unprecedented and devastating drought. Low rainfall and high temperatures are affecting not only the country’s food security but also farmers’ livelihoods.
The lack of rain has delayed rice production in the country’s 800,000 hectares of wet-season rice fields, with transplantation only 40 percent completed,
The drought comes alongside record low water levels of the Mekong River, which flows through Laos.
The Mekong River Commission (MRC), based in Laos, cited deficient rainfall over the Mekong basin as among key factors that have contributed to the current state.
An El Niño climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean is a major factor contributing to global weather conditions, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicts ocean temperatures to remain close to current levels through the June-August period, easing only around September-November.
Fall Armyworm Infestation
Xayaboury Province has been hit with a plague of fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), destroying sweetcorn and other crops.
The caterpillars have destroyed 30 percent of 35,000 hectares of maize crops, according to the Director of the Xayaboury Agriculture and Forestry Department, Mr Somvang Keovilaysack.
As a result, a 30 percent shortfall in supplies to domestic and overseas markets is expected this year.
This is the first time farmers have been affected by the insects, with the infestation beginning in Paklai district and quickly spreading to all eleven districts in the province where sweetcorn is grown.
The Lao government is now putting measures in place to control the situation and will make attempts to prevent future infestations.
Fall armyworm affected crops in Thailand and Cambodia this year, where it was never a problem before, and has also spread across 15 provinces in China, affecting about 90,000 hectares of grain production.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened a three-day meeting of international experts in Bangkok in March to discuss the armyworm plague, inviting officials from affected nations to brainstorm ways to limit the global devastation.
A fluctuating exchange rate and the drop in the value of the kip, alongside the depletion of foreign currency reserves, has caused price hikes among many household products and services, impeding economic growth and driving up the cost of living.
At the government’s monthly meeting, the departments responsible were told to boost productivity and increase exports, provide more support to the business sector, and try to boost tourism in hopes of stimulating economic growth.
Social Media Regulation
The government has grown concerned about unregistered news websites posting misinformation on social media, and has requested all purported news agencies register their websites or Facebook pages.
Comments made by the public on such websites have taken aim at shortcomings in state administration, giving rise to discussions among the cabinet about the need for further regulation of information posted online.
By Francis Savankham