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Sep 13, 2020 / 17:14

Poverty reduction in ethnic minority and mountainous areas: Leaving no one behind

The average incomes of ethnic minority households dropped by 75% in April 2020 compared with the end of 2019.

Development of high quality human resources for agriculture, new rural development and poverty reduction in ethnic minority and mountainous areas remain highly important priorities in Vietnam’s development agenda.

 Caitlin Wiesen-Antin (right) with a Vietnamese minirity ethnic woman. Photo: UNDP

We must continue our earnest effort to accelerate socio-economic development and poverty reduction, especially in ethnic minority areas, towards the SDG achievement in Vietnam, while leaving no one behind. In fact, the SDGs in Vietnam cannot be achieved without prioritizing such an acceleration.

Over the past decades, Vietnam’s success in socio-economic development had been recognized by the international community, especially its impressive results in poverty reduction and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Extreme poverty fell sharply from 49.2% (1992) to 0.7% (2018) over 15 years.

The 2019 Multidimensional Poverty Report jointly launched by UNDP and MOLISA shows multi-dimensional poverty rate (defined by Vietnam’s national MDP measurements) reduced significantly from 8.23% in 2016 to 3.72% in 2019, lifting around 6.5 million people out of multi-dimensional deprivation.

Despite this success in terms of the national average, we also know that similar socio-economic development had been slow, and poverty still remains much too prevalent in the mountainous and ethnic minority areas. The people in these areas were faced with multiple challenges even before the new complications brought about by Covid-19, which has potentially disproportionate socio-economic impacts on vulnerable groups. Even prior to January 2020, such peoples were heavily impacted by climate change, environmental and natural disasters which directly affected their livelihoods.

Women and girls in many ethnic minority areas often faced limitations in accessing healthcare services, participating in decision-making processes, and continuing education. The reasons for this range from persistent social norms of the roles of men and women, to the male-centered ideology, even though in some ethnic minority areas there is a matriarchal society which makes lives of women easier than in patriarchal societies. Insufficient gender-responsive budgeting also hinders the development of gender statistics to formulate evidence-based gender-inclusive policies and interventions.

The strict physical distancing during Covid-19 has exacerbated socio-economic burdens with respect to job security and sustainable income for many vulnerable ethic minority peoples. Many of them have either lost or been confronted with reduced income and jobs. The recent assessment by UNDP and UN Women on the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 on vulnerable households and enterprises estimates that the average incomes of ethnic minority households dropped by 75% in April 2020 compared with the end of 2019.

Additional statistical investigations also found that poverty rates among ethnic minority households may have increased by approximately 50 percentage points in April and May 2020, when economic activity all but ceased as a result of physical distancing measures.

 Caitlin Wiesen-Antin UNDP Resident Representative in Vietnam

The UN in Vietnam is working closely with the government and the people of Vietnam on Covid-19 response. We acknowledge that it is crucial to provide relevant and targeted support to the ethnic minority people including families, women and children, who make up 14.7% of Vietnam’s population but account for a wholly disproportionate percentage of the country’s extreme poor.

2020 coincidentally marks both the 75th anniversary of Vietnam’s independence as well as the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The UN Secretary General’s priority in celebrating UN75 is to put people at the center and to earnestly listen to their concerns about and aspirations for the future and UN.

As you may know, one of the key principles of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals is “Leaving No One Behind”. We would like to seize this momentum to listen directly to the voices of vulnerable groups, including ethnic minority peoples. While we commend the National Assembly and the Government of Vietnam for this initiative, the UN in Vietnam would also like to see and contribute to many more innovative and integrated people-centered approaches and solutions from the Government. We also believe that there is an urgent need for many more platforms and incentives for ordinary people, especially the most vulnerable, so as to enable their voices to be heard and heeded.

As the United Nations begins to prepare its new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for 2022-2026, the challenges of multi-dimensional poverty eradication, especially in the ethnic minority areas, will be at the center stage for us. Indeed, the United Nations stands ready to continue its partnership with the National Assembly of Vietnam with a view to listening to the people and shaping a better future for every Vietnamese.

Caitlin Wiesen-Antin is Co-Chair of the Ethnic Minority Working Group, and UNDP Resident Representative, Vietnam.