Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is among the world leaders who will join the sixty-eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly* (UNGA 68) chaired by Dr. John William Ashe — the former ambassador to the United Nations for Antigua and Barbuda— that opened on 17 September.
PM Dung’s speech to the General Assembly will touch upon Vietnam’s experience in carrying out the MDGs and “highlight the country’s stance on major international issues including solutions for peace and security, and the post-2015 UN development agenda in the face of global challenges,” as the State run media underlined.
This year, as declared by Dr. Ashe, the theme of the 68th Assembly is “The Post 2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage”. “Embarking on the post-2015 development agenda will require levels of collaboration among all stakeholders, the likes of which we have not seen before,” Mr. Ashe told thousands of participants gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Sep. 22.
In this regard, Member States and other stakeholders will be encouraged to reflect on new and emerging development challenges and their implications for the two major objectives of the post-2015 Development Agenda: overcoming poverty and insecurity, and ensuring sustainable development. The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)* – which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary school education, all by the target date of 2015 – form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions.
The United Nations has been a key partner in Vietnam’s development ever since Vietnam became the 149th member state of the UN on September 20, 1977. In the early years of hardship and post-war reconstruction, UN agencies were on the ground providing assistance to Vietnam’s rebuilding efforts. As the ‘doi moi’ (renovation) reforms began to take shape, the UN connected Vietnam with international expertise, knowledge and technical assistance to support the country’s rapid development progress.
“Vietnam has made very impressive progress towards achieving the MDGs and has been successful in meeting some of them – such as MDG 1 on eradication of extreme hunger and poverty – way ahead of the 2015 deadline. Vietnam is on track to meet several other goals. At the same time, if Vietnam is to achieve all the MDGs with equity, it is important that progress is sustained, that rising disparities are better targeted, that risks are anticipated and that remaining gaps are addressed,” as underlined on the website of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Vietnam. In fact, an increase in the demand for energy, higher education standards and skilled workers, appear to be outpacing growth and this development has been creating new contradictions: an increase in social inequality, especially between rural and urban areas, and a weakening of the welfare system.
However, beyond the challenges that the Socialist Republic is facing, it has to be underscored that of all the MDGs, Vietnam has made the most impressive progress on MDG 1 towards poverty reduction. From a poverty rate of 58.1 percent in 1993, Vietnam successfully reduced poverty to an estimated rate of 14.5 percent in 2008 – a reduction by 75 percent. The food poverty rate reduced by more than two-thirds, from 24.9 percent in 1993 to 6.9 percent in 2008. Poverty has been alleviated among all demographic groups, in urban and rural areas, and across geographical regions. Progress in reducing malnutrition has also been significant, falling from 41 percent to 11.7 percent in 2011.3
Vietnam’s success in alleviating poverty over the past decade is subject to different interpretations.
One possible interpretation, highlighted by research conducted in 2003 by the Australian National University, is that promoting growth is an effective strategy to alleviate poverty. “In a country with pervasive poverty, of the kind prevalent in Vietnam in the 1980s, economic growth is a necessary condition for widespread poverty reduction (…) To be sustainable, poverty alleviation should be about the development of productive capacity, rather than redistributive welfare measures. Market liberalization, because it promoted high growth, also supported rapid poverty alleviation,” the study stressed .
Since 2010, with gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at $1,160, Vietnam is in the group of low medium-income nations. Even in the midst of the global economic crisis, GDP continued to grow at 6.2 percent in 2008, at 5.3 percent in 2009 and at 6.78 percent in 2010. Vietnam’s GDP averaged $43,46 billion from 1985 until 2012, reaching an all-time high of $141,67 billion in December of 2012 and a record low of $6,30 billion in December of 1989.
On the other hand, other observers emphasize instead the fact that poverty reduction was strengthened when Vietnam introduced a Comprehensive Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy (CPRGS) as a pivotal policy document in 2002. “This development can be seen as a gradual shift from a purely growth oriented development strategy to one where equity and social issues play a more important role,” as Professor Ari Kokko, author of the book ‘Vietnam: 20 Years of Doi Moi’, writes.
In the years ahead however, the main challenge for the Vietnamese government will be to maintain these achievements. “The poverty rate is still high and chronic poverty persists, particularly among ethnic minorities and the most vulnerable groups such as children, women and non-registered migrants, and in disadvantaged area,” as reported by UNDP Vietnam, which underlines that “urban poverty is starting to emerge as a new form of poverty.” Hence, the risk of falling back into poverty is high, among other things, because of the impacts of the global financial crisis, macro-economic instability and more severe natural disasters as a result of climate change.
The Vietnamese government itself is recommending which track to follow: “To make sure that all the MDGs are achieved in all provinces and communes of Vietnam, reforms are needed to promote more sustainable, inclusive, equitable, and resilient growth. This means growth that all population groups, particularly most vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, the poor, unregistered migrants, women and children, can actively and equally participate in and benefit from. Effective reforms in public investment and state-owned enterprises could increase the fiscal space to allow for more internal resources for investing in poverty reduction, social sectors (e.g. education and health), and social protection.”
In March 2012, the government of Vietnam and the UN agencies signed the One Plan for 2012-2016, outlining three broad focus areas. Thes include supporting the government to achieve inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth; access to quality essential services and social protection; and enhanced governance and participation.
* The General Assembly (GA) is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN. Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority. Decisions on other questions are by simple majority. (Functions and Powers).
* MDG 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger; MDG 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education; MDG 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women; MDG 4: Reduce Child Mortality; MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health; MDG 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases; MDG 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability; MDG 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development.