Mr. Vũ Đại Thắng, Vice Minister, Ministry of Planning and Investment

Ambassadors,

Representatives of line ministries, research institutions, businesses and development partners,

UN colleagues

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to launch the UNDP Human Development Report 2019 “Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century” in Viet Nam – the country that has embarked firmly on people-centered development and has been prioritizing equality in its socio-economic development strategies and plans.

The launch of the Human Development Report is taking place globally around the world today.   This year's report is the first of a new generation of HDRs for UNDP, to accelerate thought leadership, and drive conversations on the future of development, and in so doing, advance progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. UNDP is delighted to have partnered with Mr. Thomas Piketty (author of the best-selling book on Capital in the Twenty-First century) and his team at the World Inequality Lab to produce this report which focuses on new ways of measuring and approaching inequalities. The topic of the HDR this year is a pertinent one as systemic inequality is deeply damaging our society and harming the human development progress.

There is much that Viet Nam can be proud of in this Human Development Report. Indeed, Viet Nam’s progress in human development has been remarkable. Between 1990 – 2018 the country’s HDI value increased rapidly , with an average annual HDI growth of 1.36%.   This places Viet Nam among the group of countries with the highest HDI growth rate in the world. During the same period, Viet Nam’s life expectancy at birth increased by 4.8 years, mean years of schooling: by 4.3 years and expected years of schooling: by 4.9 years and Gross National Income (GNI per capita) increased by 354.5 percent. As a result, Viet Nam has shifted from a low HDI country in 1990, to just shy of High Human Development in 2018.  Today Viet Nam ranks 118 among 189 countries on HDI, and the country’s HDI value is only 0.007 point below the High Human Development Group’s threshold.

 Notably, Viet Nam’s Human Development progress has been achieved with relatively low increases in inequality. Viet Nam’s loss of HDI value due to inequality in 2018 is 16.3%, its loss of income due to inequality is 18.1% and, its GINI coefficient at 35.3 -- are among the lowest in the East Asia and Pacific region. In fact, when taking into account Viet Nam’s Inequality Adjusted HDI, the country is 8 places higher than its HDI ranking in 2018.

Viet Nam has also been performing well in terms of gender equality. The Gender Development Index value of 1.003 puts the country in the top group out of 5 groups of 166 countries in the world, with Viet Nam ranking 68th out of 162 countries in Gender Inequality Index. Particularly commendable is the share of seats in parliament which places Vietnam among the top third of countries globally. However, there are important areas for improvement: Vietnam ranks among the bottom third of countries globally in terms of sex ratio at birth (1.12), violence against women by non-intimate partners (34.4%) and women with accounts in financial institutions or with mobile money service provider (30.4%). When going beyond national averages, as HDR 2019 calls for, disaggregated data shows larger disparities by geographical locations and ethnic minority groups.

Turning to performance in sustainable, environmental development, the HDR highlights Viet Nam’s forest coverage as among the top third of countries globally. At the same time, it is among the bottom third of countries in terms of carbon emission per capita. Addressing this will be a key challenge to ensure the sustainability of Vietnam’s growth.

Importantly, while Viet Nam is among the top third of countries in terms of unemployment rates, it is among the bottom third of countries in terms of skilled labor force and vulnerable employment.  This reflects a reliance on simple skilled labor and poses a serious risk of losing jobs to automation, potentially deepening inequalities in the next development period.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is why the topic of this year’s HDR is so important. Failure to address the systemic challenges to tackle new generation of inequalities will not only slow-down sustainable development in this Century but also further entrench inequalities and harm the human development progress in the next Century. The Report analyzes inequality and its causes by looking “Beyond Income, Beyond Averages and Beyond Today”.

Inequality cannot be only framed around income, fed and measured by the notion that making money is the most important thing in life. Viet Nam has recognized this and was among the several countries in the world that have been pioneering the application of Multi-Dimensional Poverty measurements and approach since 2015. The country’s achievement in reducing multi-dimensional poverty is also remarkable: with the MPI value of 0.019 it ranks 29th out of 102 countries and is among the top countries in East Asia and Pacific on this indicator.

Inequality is also looked at through the lens of power distribution of power be it political or monopoly in the market. Going beyond income will require tackling entrenched social and political norms embedded deep within different nations’ or population groups’ histories and cultures. Dignity as equal treatment and nondiscrimination can be even more important than the imbalances in income distribution.

Going beyond averages, the Report calls for analyzing and addressing the life-course gender gaps and inequalities among different population groups and geographical locations. Viet Nam’s disaggregated data show that despite the remarkable progress at national level, Ethnic Minority groups lag behind in many human capabilities, such as life expectancy, health and education (especially vocational training and tertiary education), and multi-dimensional poverty. This suggests a serious challenge for Viet Nam to ensure No One is Left Behind.

Looking beyond today, the Report articulates the rise of a new generation of inequalities. Just as the gap in basic living standards is narrowing, with an unprecedented number of people in the world escaping poverty, hunger and disease, the abilities people will need to compete in the immediate future have evolved. A new gap has opened, such as in tertiary education and digital literacy—opportunities once considered luxuries that are now considered critical to compete and belong, particularly in a knowledge economy, as Industrial Revolution 4.0 accelerates.  Allow me to quote Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator:

‘We also need to avoid a 'new great divergence' in our societies driven by artificial intelligence and digital technologies. There is historical precedent for technological revolutions to carve deep, persistent inequalities- as took place in the Industrial Revolution. … How we adopt and use new technology is on our hands, and it can be guided to be a force for good.”

At the same time, climate change, gender inequality and violent conflict continue to drive and entrench basic and new inequalities alike.

The Report suggests that, just as inequality begins at birth, defines the freedom and opportunities of children, adults and elders, and permeates those of the next generation, so, too, policies to prevent inequalities can follow the lifecycle.

Integrated solutions addressing multidimensions of inequality should start early and span throughout 3 key stages of people’s lives:

Before they reach the labour market: to address sex birth selection, nutritional, health and educational gaps between children and young women and men.

Once they are in the labour market: to harness the power of labour, industrial, gender and anti-trust policies to level the playing field;

And after the market: to make sure taxes, transfers, subsidies and social services equalize the opportunities of haves and have-nots.

Politicians and policymakers have a range of choices that, if correctly combined for the context of each country or group, will translate into a lifelong investment in equality and sustainability. Equitably strengthening enhanced human capabilities such as tertiary education, digital literacy and climate resilience will be key for Vietnam’s Human Development in the 21st Century.

Making the choices to reduce inequalities in basic human capabilities and stop the widening gaps in advanced human capabilities starts with a commitment to tackling the complexity of human development — to pushing the boundaries to help countries and communities realize the Sustainable Development Goals, and to ensure No One is Left Behind.

This is the mission at the heart of the United Nations Development Programme, working together with the 170 countries and territories we serve. This is the mission that UNDP set forth in our partnership with Viet Nam.

Viet Nam is at a critical juncture as it designs its next Socio-Economic Development Strategy, with decisions made today determining whether the country will continue its current pattern of growth with relatively low inequality or whether new forms of emerging inequalities will be further entrenched and deepened with unsustainable growth pathways.

I would like to reaffirm that UNDP stands ready to partner with Viet Nam in the journey to achieve the country’s Sustainable Development Goals and leave no one behind, through sustainable, inclusive and equitable development pathways.

I look forward to rich discussions on the Report findings and recommendations, especially the policy action implications for Viet Nam.

I wish you all good health and successes.   

Xin cảm ơn.

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