Vietnam has the remarkable record for a developing country of achieving the first of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - halving poverty over the period 1990-2015 - more than a decade in advance. According to the most recent progress report published in 2005, the percentage of households below the poverty line (assessed as the cost of adequate food plus non-food essentials) fell from 58% in 1993 to less than 24% in 2004, whilst extreme poverty (food costs alone) dropped from 25% to below 8%.
Although no formal sources of more recent date can be traced, it is generally accepted that this rate of poverty reduction has continued unchecked, at least until the end of 2007. The UK Department for International Development suggests that 3 million people moved above the poverty line in 2006 alone. Other key social indicators show similar spectacular improvement to the extent that Vietnam claims to have achieved all of the MDG targets except those for HIV/AIDS and sanitation.
Despite these successes, Vietnam remains classified as a “low income” country where poverty limits opportunities for 12 million people and a further 10 million hover just above the poverty line. The Vietnamese government’s Socio-Economic Development Plan (2006-2010) is clearly focused on the MDGs – indeed under new and tougher criteria for poverty assessment, the government has set a range of 12 more demanding targets for 2010 which are known as the Vietnam Development Goals.
The most challenging component of this program is the concentration of poverty amongst Vietnam’s minority ethnic groups who form about 13% of the population and who predominantly live in the remote upland and highland regions. Cut off from the country’s prosperity by underdeveloped infrastructure and dependent on low yielding agriculture and forest products, more than 60% of these groups were assessed as below the poverty line in the 2004 survey. Key government services such as education tend to be below standard and NGO development programs struggle to produce sustainable results. Decentralization of project responsibility to the areas in need is often cited as the remedy.