A street vendor hawks video CDs in Ho Chi Minh City. Around 7.8 percent of Vietnam’s population are living under poverty threshold set VND400,000-500,000 (US$18.9-23.6) per person per month. / PHOTO: AFP
A philanthropist I knew once told me the story of traveling more than 100 kilometers to meet a poor person who was featured on a TV documentary. The philanthropist had planned to give the needy person some money, but he changed his mind when he found the would-be recipient gambling.
The charitable man said he stopped donating money directly to the poor and now only raises funds for public works like schools and health clinics. He’s right that giving money is not always the best way to help people.
Many people now believe that giving money to the poor is not the best way to reduce poverty.
According to the Ministry of Labors, War Invalids and Social Affairs, there are now 70 government programs related to poverty reduction.
The ministry reports that more than VND542 trillion (US$25.6 billion) was spent on poverty reduction programs between 2005 and 2012, but only 36 percent was spent on development activities, like creating jobs for the poor.
The majority of the funds, more than 63 percent, went to administrative procedures in place to distribute the support.
Vietnam’s poverty reduction programs can be described by a common Vietnamese saying: “one coin for the chicken; three coins for the rice [that feed the chicken],” meaning that it is ineffective investment.
It is said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. Here, apparently, Vietnam has forgotten the theory.
The ultimate objective of poverty reduction policies is to decrease the number of families who are living under the poverty threshold. (The Vietnamese government has set the poverty line at VND400,000 ($18.9) per person per month for rural households, and VND500,000 ($23.6) per person per month for urban households).
With the big sum of money that Vietnam has put into efforts to reduce poverty, we are totally capable of achieving that goal quickly and effectively, as long as we know how to give poor people fishing rods and teach them to fish correctly.
Vietnam has managed to decrease its poverty rate from 58 percent in 1993 to around 7.8 percent at the moment, a development that has been praised by many international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program.
But, the country is still a long way from reaching its ultimate goal.
It is necessary that agencies undertake large scale surveys and researches to identify the number of poor people who are in need of governmental aid, and most importantly, identify the best way to provide help.
We need specifics. Broad, general policies to “eradicate” or “eliminate” poverty are never effective when applied.
Like us on Facebook and scroll down to share your comment
By An Nguyen, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the October 4th issue of our print edition Vietweek)