“I am one of 7 Billion people in the world”
The world's population topped seven billion people at the end of October 2011 and Mr. Thongsouk Somphouviseth is well aware of the challenges and opportunities this unique moment in human history implies for the Lao PDR.
Mr. Thongsouk, better known as Souk, is a smart 21-year-old student in his 5th year at the Faculty of Environmental Sciences in the National University of Laos. Recently, he was selected from more than 60 participants as the winner of the national essay competition "The World at 7 Billion: Opportunities, Challenges and implications for Lao Development", organized by the Ministry of Planning and Investment and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The contest was part of the campaign 7 Billion Actions, a global initiative led by UNFPA to highlight the critical role population changes play in shaping our world's future.
Many activities have been organized in Laos within the framework of the campaign, including the essay contest, various academic seminars and workshops on population issues, a knowledge contest for university students, a concert, discussion panels involving parliamentarians and young people, and the birth of the 7 Billionth Baby as well as the launching of the State of the World's Population Report 2011.
A key focus of the national campaign is the importance of youth for development. With more than 60% of its population below 24 years of age, the country has a large generation of young and working-age population that can be a key driver for economic growth. Nevertheless, young Laotians still face many challenges including HIV/AIDS, drugs, alcohol, unsafe sex, school dropped-out, unemployment, early pregnancy and early marriage. As leaders of the next generation, their choices and prospects will determine the future of the country.
7 Billion: "Opportunities and Challenges for Lao PDR"
"This milestone may have positive and negative effects for Lao PDR" said Souk. A bigger population might mean "lack of work, food, drinking water and more pollution" but on the bright side "it is a big opportunity for socio-economic development because people will have more access to new technologies and better quality jobs will be required. With the right planning in the present, we can expect improvements on education and health for Lao people in the near future" he added.
Born and raised in Hongsa a small district located in Xayaboury province, around 450 kilometers from the capital Vientiane, Souk came to the city immediately after high school to pursue studies in Environmental Sciences. As many Laotians from around the country, he migrated to the capital seeking further education. "The main need of young Lao people is education. With quality education and facilities, such as internet access and libraries, we can build a good environment and a peaceful society" he says. Now he plans to stay in Vientiane and look for a job. "Hopefully in the field of population and development, which is my great interest" he adds.