Leaving no one behind and leaving no one out in Viet Nam
17 Oct 2014 by Dr. Pratibha Mehta, United Nations Resident Coordinator, Viet Nam
Over the last decades Viet Nam has rightly earned a global reputation for rapid and sustained reductions in poverty. The positive trends have been driven by rapid, fairly consistent and high labour intensity economic growth, Viet Nam’s integration within global trade and contributory demographic changes.
Yet, all is not so rosy in the garden. Viet Nam’s fight against poverty is incomplete and it’s running out of steam. Economic growth has declined considerably since 2008 and poverty is unevenly distributed - severe deprivation is experienced by particular groups and the Ethnic Minorities especially so. Major gaps are also evident in other Millennium Development Goal outcomes, like in health and education.
I have learned that to understand poverty in Viet Nam one has to look beyond the averages and the sound-bites. As I’ve travelled around the country, I have had the chance to meet some of those who have been left behind, including young unregistered migrant workers in urban areas, the disabled and elderly and single-headed households. I’ve been struck by their resourcefulness and courage, but too many still struggle against extreme poverty and inequality. And this is in spite of the often genuine efforts of the Government.
There are many things to be done, but for me, four priorities stand out.
First, we need better information on these groups, and a diagnosis of the factors which keep them in poverty. This literally means getting behind the data and digging deeper - drawing on qualitative, and notably ethnographic, analyses. Methods such as multi-dimensional poverty measurement that the Government is now piloting, offer new insights into the key drivers and deprivations suffered.
Secondly, Viet Nam needs to invest more in social assistance, which provides a decent safety net and encourages people to make investments and take the necessary actions to get out and stay out of poverty. Higher investments in social assistance not only help improve equity, but can make a contribution to longer term economic growth.
Third, it is timely that Viet Nam looks again at core public services, chiefly education and health. This includes revisiting the impact of socialization on the life chances of the poor and near poor groups. Free and subsidized health insurance has contributed to some good progress on healthcare. But Government needs also to invest in delivering better quality education, securing equity between groups and empowering the most vulnerable.
Fourth, better regional policy and well-tailored interventions are vital. Pilot initiatives in poorest provinces of Viet Nam show that funding in the form of block grants (from a community development fund) that empowers poor women, men and their communities in defining solutions, formulation of plans, implementation and management had the best results.
History has demonstrated this country’s ability to overcome all manner of adversities. It is now time for Viet Nam to run the final difficult mile and ensure the eradication of absolute poverty, which mainly afflicts ethnic minority communities and particularly disadvantaged groups.