A UN expert has voiced concern about the high poverty levels among Vietnam’s ethnic minorities, many of whom live in remote areas and have difficulty accessing social services.
Magdalena Sepúlveda, a Chilean expert in human rights and extreme poverty, told the media in Hanoi Tuesday at the end of a nine-day visit to the country that without policy measures that recognize cultural differences and overcome barriers to the inclusion of minority groups, poverty will persist.
While hailing Vietnam’s considerable strides in reducing poverty in the last 20 years, she said efforts must be ramped up to ensure that no one is left behind as the nation continues its economic growth.
But poverty should not be understood purely as an economic issue that can be solved solely by boosting household incomes, she warned.
“Effective poverty reduction strategies must be always framed by the overall premise that everyone in Vietnam must enjoy the full range of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights,” she said.
She welcomed the creation of a social protection program for 2011-2012, noting that to be effective, this strategy must be “comprehensive, integrated with other social policies, and well-funded.”
“Despite commendable efforts to expand the coverage of free health insurance and education subsidies, most of the benefits people receive are taken away again through user fees on health or education.”
Sepúlveda also called on those living in extreme poverty to take part in designing, implementing, and evaluating public policies affecting them to ensure they are effective and sustainable.
“Corruption has a particularly devastating impact on persons living in extreme poverty. The government must immediately strengthen and implement effective and accessible mechanisms for complaints and adopt appropriate legislation to guarantee access to information, among other mechanisms.”
During her trip, she met with government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, and visited poor communities in Bac Kan, Hanoi, and Quang Nam.
Vietnam halved its poverty rate from 60 percent between 1993 and 2002, and has reduced it further to 10 percent this year.
Sepúlveda, a lawyer, was appointed in May 2008, and reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in an unpaid capacity.