Speech at the workshop “Directions for poverty reduction programmes in the 2011-2020 period”

25 May 2010

Speaker:  Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator   
Date:        Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Event:      Workshop “Directions for poverty reduction programmes in the 2011-2020 period”
Venue:     Sofitel Plaza Hotel, Hanoi

Your Excellency Vice Minister of MPI Nguyen Bich Dat
Your Excellency Vice Minister of MOLISA Nguyen Trong Dam
Distinguished National Assembly Deputies and representatives of ministries and research institutes,
UN colleagues, friends from the international community,

On behalf of the United Nations in Viet Nam and other development partners, I would like to convey our sincere thanks to both MPI and MOLISA for your joint efforts in organizing this workshop. I am also very happy to see so many key Government policymakers here this morning not only from MPI and MOLISA but also from the National Assembly, Office of Government, CEMA, various line ministries including MARD, MOH, MONRE, CEMA, the Viet Nam Institute of Economics and various researchers. Today then is an important opportunity for Government policymakers, UN experts and national researchers to share ideas and make contributions to future poverty reduction approaches and programmes in Viet Nam.

In short, we are all aware that over the last two decades, thanks to the strong commitment of the Government, Viet Nam has made truly remarkable achievements in the area of poverty reduction. Indeed, Viet Nam was the first country in the world to achieve Millennium Development Goal #1: eliminating extreme poverty and hunger.

Several factors were key to this achievement, including robust economic reforms, which released Viet Nam’s socio-economic development potential, the relatively equal provision of social services, and targeted Government action through programmes such as the National Target Programme for Poverty Reduction, Programme 135 and other related initiatives.

However, as commonly acknowledged, the “low hanging fruit” have now been “picked”. After a long period of steady reduction, the nature and face of poverty in Viet Nam we see today is different, and further achievements in poverty reduction will be that much more challenging.

At the macro-level, we see that many ethnic minority and mountainous areas are falling further and further behind the rest of the country in terms of socio-economic development. There is also a growing concern that the provision of social services and social security are becoming increasingly less equitable – both in terms of access and in terms of quality. At the same time, it appears that many people are being pushed back into poverty or falling deeper into poverty due to shocks such as the global economic crisis, human and animal epidemics, and more frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by climate change.

All these developments are contributing to persistent poverty, including extreme poverty, among most ethnic minority groups and many people living in mountainous areas. In addition, there are emerging groups that are newly poor or especially vulnerable to poverty, including female and male migrant workers in urban areas and workers with unstable and low-income jobs in the informal sector. For these groups there seems to be a lack of mechanisms and policies available to address their needs.

At the same time, limited Government resources are currently spread thinly among an increasing number of often fragmented programmes and policies. More importantly, as the mid-term reviews for both the  NTP and Programme 135 have shown, substantial overlaps and lack of coordination have resulted in low efficiency and limited impact.

In this context, today’s workshop provides us with a great opportunity to discuss possible future directions of poverty reduction efforts in Viet Nam. To help facilitate the discussion, I would like to share a few thoughts on key measures that could help Viet Nam effectively address the challenges I have just mentioned.

First, existing poverty reduction programmes and policies could be combined under one master programme or framework to reduce overlap and improve coordination and enhance efficiency. The components of such a master programme would need to demonstrate clear links and add value to broader socio-economic development. And the implementation and management mechanisms of such a programme would need to both empower officials and the poor at the local level to identify solutions that best meet their needs.  

A second measure relates to addressing the high concentration of chronic poverty in ethnic minority communities. An effective response needs to be ethnically sensitive, differentiated and include greater recognition of vulnerability and of risk. It must also incorporate the multi-dimensional nature of poverty, meaning a focus on the broader concept of human development and not only simply on increasing income.

This could be done by enhancing the capacity of ethnic minority people to take a more active role in the equitable and inclusive socio-economic development of their communities and by ensuring the provision of quality and equitable social services, including inclusive and progressive social security, social protection and social assistance.

A third and final recommendation is to review and possibly adapt more inclusive, universal and self-targeted poverty reduction approaches applied successfully in other countries such as cash transfers, cash-for-work programmes, and provision of universal social protection.   

Dear Colleagues
As we are all aware, Viet Nam is entering a new phase as a middle-income country and, like its growth model, its  poverty reduction strategy will too have to change: doing more of the same will not be good enough. I have highlighted some of the key issues related to the future directions of poverty reduction that I feel we need to carefully consider, and I am sure we will discuss many others here today. 

In all these efforts, let me reaffirm that we in the United Nations family in Viet Nam will continue to support the Government “as One”, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of today’s discussion to further our collaboration with all stakeholders. It is our joint aspiration that all the Millennium Development Goals are achieved in every village and in every household in Viet Nam.

In closing I would like to thank MPI, MOLISA and my UN colleagues for their hard work to make this event possible, on a topic that is rightfully generating a lot of interest. I would like to both wish all participants fruitful discussions that result in concrete policy recommendations and a successful day and good health and happiness. 
Cam on.