Speech by UN Resident Coordinator at the ethnic minority policy forum

03 Dec 2010

Speaker:  UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. John Hendra
Date:        Friday, 3 December 2010
Event:      Ethnic minority policy forum
Venue:     Fortuna Hotel, Lang Ha, Ha Noi

Mr. Giang Seo Phu, CEMA Minister;
Mr. K’Sor Phuoc, Chairman of the Ethnic Council in the National Assembly;
Representatives from Ministries and Provinces;
Excellencies Ambassadors, Development Partners and My Fellow UN and World Bank Colleagues;
Participants of the Forum

Let me start by commending the leadership of CEMA for both creating this much appreciated opportunity to discuss an issue of concern to everyone, and for bringing together such a diverse range of participants in this first Ethnic Minority Policy Forum. We very much look forward to exchanging views on the current challenges facing Viet Nam’s ethnic minority groups and the future strategies and approaches needed to ensure that ethnic minorities both benefit from Viet Nam’s economic and social development and also play an active part in it.

This is an especially opportune time to be discussing these issues as Viet Nam is formulating both its new ten year socio-economic development strategy, the SEDS, and its new five year plan, the SEDP. This, along with the current review by the Government of its poverty reduction policy framework which in part came out of an earlier Government/UN policy dialogue, offers an excellent opportunity for ethnic minority issues to be fully reflected and integrated in national policies. It is the intention of the UN to continue such policy dialogues in 2011 and beyond, using the now jointly convened Programme Coordination Groups as the primary vehicle in this regard.

At the outset, I would like to briefly highlight four critical issues which we as the UN feel are fundamental to the challenge of addressing ethnic minority development, and then suggest some possible avenues for policy action that could be explored.

First, if ethnic minority poverty is to be effectively addressed in the future, it is clear that new approaches need to be considered. Ethnic minority poverty in Viet Nam today is often both chronic and inter-generational in nature, it currently represents about half of the poor in Viet Nam and its reduction is taking place at a much slower pace than what happened for the rest of the population. As many of the ‘easy gains’ have already been made, we know that future poverty reduction is likely to be more difficult, more complex and more costly than before and hence calls for new and fresh thinking.

Secondly, it is important that we recognize that ethnic minority poverty is not simply an issue of lack of income but is in fact a multi-dimensional problem. All of the recent evidence we have suggests that ethnic minorities face deprivations across a range of different domains. For example, the national 2010 Viet Nam MDG Report highlights that the maternal mortality rate is alarmingly high amongst ethnic minority women and that ethnic minority children account for one-third of the national stunting rate, a phenomenon a number of partners and myself saw first-hand last month when we had the privilege of travelling to Dien Bien province with H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong.

Further, the 2010 poverty assessment recently completed by the Vietnamese Academy for Social Science (VASS) reveals that ethnic minority children have consistently lower net levels of school enrollment. Overall, ethnic minority populations face significant barriers to participating in development and benefitting from economic growth, which, if not addressed, will continue to lock them into poverty and deprivation.

As part of a new approach then there is hence a need to ensure more robust measurement of multi-dimensional poverty and to monitor results against a variety of indicators of well-being, including health, education, access to clean water and sanitation, as well as indicators related to gender equality, culture, the use of local languages and the level of participation in decision-making processes. The pioneering work done by MOLISA on multi-dimensional child poverty is an important step forward in this context – similar innovative, multi-dimensional approaches are needed for ethnic minority poverty.

Thirdly, it is important to recognize that through key government programmes like P135 and the National Target Programme for Poverty Reduction major and very important progress has been made to improve both infrastructure in ethnic minority areas and the coverage of social services. But much more still needs to be done within and beyond those national programmes. In schooling for ethnic minority children, for example, early bi-lingual education and qualified teachers would do much to ensure ethnic minority children stay in school longer and get a better education, and improve retention rates for ethnic minority girls. And improving the quality of health services on offer in ethnic minority areas would reduce maternal mortality significantly as well as reducing the burden of disease more broadly.  

Finally, I would also like to underline that the experience of poverty amongst different ethnic minority groups is extremely diverse. This means that culturally sensitive and context-specific targeting measures will increasingly be necessary in order to reduce poverty further and to efficiently use allocated financial resources.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In designing the policy responses necessary to meet these challenges, strong and visionary leadership by the Government will be of decisive importance. This may involve rethinking many of the current strategies for poverty reduction and introducing new policies for ethnic minority development within the overall framework of inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth. As a  contribution to today’s Conference, let me briefly sketch out what some of these new directions could be.
First, ethnic minorities will continue to need extra support through dedicated national poverty reduction programmes and more specific attention in key sectoral policies (e.g. in health; education; water and sanitation; nutrition).  In addition, creating opportunities for wage employment and integration in the market economy will also be just as important for sustainable poverty reduction.

In particular, special effort is needed to boost wage employment for ethnic minority women, just 10 per cent of whom are in paid employment compared to 19 per cent of ethnic minority men and 32 per cent of Kinh/Hoa women.This will require government agencies to play a key catalytic role in assisting ethnic minorities to access the labour market and building new partnerships with businesses to encourage investment and employment creation in ethnic minority areas. Together with the availability, accessibility and affordability of basic social services for ethnic minorities, this integration and the promotion of wage employment would enable ethnic minorities to better benefit from, and actively participate in, the socio-economic development process.

Secondly, the development of an effective social protection system, which ethnic minority people can access and afford, should be an important component of any future policy framework. Such a system will help to reduce the vulnerability of the poor and ensure that poverty reduction gains already made are not reversed in the face of a household crisis, such as a sudden major expenditure on health or the loss of assets and crops due to natural disasters.
It is particularly critical that those who are most vulnerable due to multiple forms of disadvantage, such as single female headed households; households with a sick family member; and households migrating for work or as a result of natural disasters, are able to access social protection. In short, an effective combination of well-targeted poverty reduction support and social protection interventions is key for sustainably improving the lives of ethnic minorities.

Thirdly, as we all know, in designing and implementing policies, institutions matter. As the agency specifically tasked with working with, and on behalf of, ethnic minorities, CEMA has a critical role to play today and in the future. This future role could also include the monitoring of development plans, policies and programmes targeted at and affecting ethnic minorities, as well as advocating on their behalf. The National Assembly, in particular through the Ethnic Council, also has an important role to play in ensuring that ethnic minorities, their needs, rights and interests are represented in the national policy debate and in the national policies and laws adopted.

Fourthly, the continued commitment of the international community to support the Government’s efforts will also be important. The partnership between the Government and development partners in P135 Phase II has been a good example of both an efficient budget support mechanism and effective  partnership building. The UN, and I know other development partners, remain strongly committed to working with the Government to continue supporting all aspects of ethnic minority development. We are committed to include ethnic minority issues in our work on poverty reduction and on social protection and also in other crucial areas such as climate change and disaster risk reduction, legal empowerment and the law-making process.  
 
Finally, for Government and national support to be most effective and sustained a critical pre-requisite is enabling the active participation and voice of ethnic minority people themselves as architects of their future development. International experience clearly shows that ownership of development processes and meaningful participation of beneficiaries themselves in defining poverty reduction solutions is absolutely critical in ensuring their success and long term sustainability. In our individual and collective support, we should do all we can to ensure that ethnic minorities themselves are indeed active partners for change as we enter the next chapter in Viet Nam’s social and economic development. It is especially important to ensure that women and men are equally able to participate, as well as children and young people, in such efforts.

In closing, let me again thank CEMA for organizing this important forum and for giving us the opportunity to set out a few key issues for discussion today. We all very much look forward to the outcomes of this very important forum.

I would like to wish all participants much happiness, great success and good health. Thank you very much for your kind attention.