Vietnam's poor harder to reach: World Bank

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Vietnam has lifted some 30 million people out of poverty in the past two decades, but macroeconomic instability now leaves the remaining poor harder to reach, the World Bank said in a report.

The poverty rate fell from nearly 58 percent of the population in the early 1990s to 20.7 percent in 2010, the bank said in its 2012 assessment on Vietnam's poverty.

The rate was based on a poverty line established by the bank and Vietnam General Statistics Office to better reflect the living conditions of the poor, at VND653,000/person/month or US$1.05/person/day. A person with earnings below this figure is deemed poor.

Vietnam's labor ministry earlier came up with a poverty rate of 14.2 percent for 2010, using the poverty line of VND500,000/person/month and VND400,000/person/month for urban and rural areas respectively.

According to the report titled "Well Begun, Not Yet Done: Vietnam's Remarkable Progress on Poverty Reduction and the Emerging Challenges," Vietnam is a success story in poverty reduction, but not where ethnic minorities are concerned.

"[The] achievements are very impressive," said Valerie Kozel, Senior Economist for the World Bank and lead author of the report.

"But growth has slowed in recent years due to macro instability and external shocks, inequality is rising, and ethnic minority poverty remains persistently high."

The report said Vietnam's 53 ethnic minority groups make up less than 15 percent of the population but they accounted for nearly 50 percent of the poor in 2010.

It said most minorities continue to reside in more isolated and less productive mountainous regions of the country.

The report said the rapid economic transformation of the last few decades has left people in rural areas with limited access to high quality education and health services, as well as good jobs.

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Andrew Wells-Dang, a co-author of the report, said poverty remains a persisting challenge among the ethnic minorities because they face disadvantages in education, mobility, credit, land and market access, as well as stigma and discrimination by the majority.

He said some ethnic minorities have gotten out of poverty themselves through a process of agriculture-led diversification that is market driven while retaining aspects of traditional culture.

"Government programs have played a role but are not sufficient. Poverty reduction programs would be more effective by focusing more on livelihoods, involving local people as active participants, and targeting specifically to certain ethnic groups, regions, or clusters of poor people rather than nationwide," he said.

At a teleconference held by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs on January 7, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said: "We are not short of rice and we are also giving aid to here and there. Then why do our children still have to bring cassava, corn and potato to the class and building shacks [nearby] to cook their meal?"

"Poverty reduction in ethnic minority areas has been too slow. It is unacceptable to allow a poverty proportion of 50, 60 or even 70 percent of ethnic minority households," he said.

Le Quang Binh, director of the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment, also said poverty reduction programs are not enough.

"Take the issues of forestation, land policies, rubber planting, mining and hydropower dams for instance. All the involved polices [created] much money but the benefits did not stay with the mountainous areas but went into to the pockets of the companies or the province [authorities]," he said.

He said these projects have destroyed a lot of land and the means of livelihoods of the ethnic minorities.

"I am not surprised that the government has developed a lot of support programs for ethnic minorities but poverty and hunger remain high."

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