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Viet Nam must protect right to food amid rapid industrialization - UN human rights expert

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GENEVA (19 December 2017) – Viet Nam’s impressive achievements with respect to social and economic rights by making dramatic reductions in poverty and food insecurity must be balanced against growing concerns of adverse environmental impacts affecting people’s livelihoods, Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food has said.

These emerging challenges need to be addressed with transparency and full participation of the people affected, the UN human rights expert said.

“Viet Nam’s development over the past 30 years has been truly remarkable, with its economic and political reforms transforming it from one of the world’s poorest nations to a middle-income country,” said Ms. Elver.

The expert said overall poverty rates had fallen from around 60 per cent in the early 1990s to less than 10 per cent in 2015. Over the same period, a third of Viet Nam’s population was lifted out of food insecurity, an almost unprecedented contribution to the right to food benefiting the people of Vietnam.

However, alongside these positive contributions to people’s living conditions, the fast-growing economy and industrialization were causing environmental pollution and concerns about the sustainable conservation of renewable resources.

“Development plans and policies must take into account the true costs on human health, soil and water resources, as well as the long-term impact of environmental degradation on future generations, rather than basing policy only on short-term profitability and economic growth,” Ms. Elver said in a statement following an official visit from 13 to 23 November.

Ms. Elver witnessed some of the negative impacts of industrialization on residents in Quang Binh Province on the central coast.

“I spoke to members of near-shore fishing households, some of the most vulnerable segments of Viet Nam’s population, who had suffered greatly from the impact of the highly toxic leak of the Formosa Steel Production Factory in April 2016,” she said.

“The leak caused the death of tonnes of fish, dramatic drops in seafood catches and interruption of fishing activities for many months, with severe impacts on people’s livelihoods in this coastal zone.”

A governmental compensation programme based on a $500 million fine paid by Formosa seemed to have been on occasion insufficient with regards to the long-term impact on the fisher folk and their families’ livelihoods, Ms. Elver added. She urged the Government to be more transparent and forthcoming with regards to the design and the implementation of the programme.

The Special Rapporteur said the country had shifted from being a net importer of food to a large-scale exporter, with agricultural production more than tripling in recent decades and record rice production. She urged the country to continue to diversify its agricultural production from rice so as to reflect sustainability considerations, especially given the impacts of climate change.

Viet Nam is among the countries at extreme risk due to climate change–impact and natural disasters, with the risk being especially high along its extensive coastal areas as well as in mountainous regions where ethnic minorities live, often at near subsistence levels.

“Women and girls are among the most vulnerable groups in the face of natural disaster and climate related weather events such as drought, flood and salinity intrusion, with direct impacts on their nutrition. Salinization in river basins and the fertile Mekong Delta region have reached alarming levels,” the expert said.

Food safety issues in Viet Nam are also crucial. The Special Rapporteur said there were concerns over the use of pesticides and other chemicals, which she regards as “excessive” and insufficiently regulated.  

The Special Rapporteur’s final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019.


Ms. Hilal Elver (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. She is a Research Professor, co-director of the Project on Global Climate Change, Human Security and Democracy housed at the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, and global distinguished fellow at the University of California Los Angeles Law School (UCLA) Resnick Food Law and Policy Center.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights country page – Viet Nam

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