Recipes to Combat Hunger and Poverty

In

Hanoi—In marking the last International Day for Poverty Eradication this century, the United Nations in Viet Nam congratulates the Government and people of Viet Nam on achieving tremendous results in poverty reduction over the past five years. While poverty levels in many countries continue to increase, Viet Nam has worked consistently and diligently to address the causes of poverty and empower its poor citizens to take action to improve their standard of living.

The average income of people living in this country is 57% higher today than it was in 1990. The recent Viet Nam Living Standards Survey shows that the number of Viet Nam's poor has decreased from 58% in 1992/93 to 37% in 1997/98. According to a lower poverty line used by the Government, poverty fell from 25% to 15% of the population over the same period. Whichever way poverty is calculated, the substantial drops reflect the changed lives of thousands of people.

The reduction in poverty and hunger is food for thought for organisations working to eliminate hunger. It is important to look at how the levels of poverty and hunger have decreased, and ensure that these methods become basic ingredients for projects targeting Viet Nam's poor.

Although success is the general trend, there are still children and adults throughout Viet Nam who go to bed hungry each night. As many as 41% of children in Viet Nam are underweight from eating insufficient and inadequate food.

"Poverty does not affect all people equally. It discriminates against those with fewer employment and education opportunities, those with poor health, those who lack information and don't get to participate in the decisions made around them and those who lack access to resources", said Mr Edouard A. Wattez, the Resident Co-ordinator of the UN in Viet Nam. "Statistically, such people are more likely to be from an ethnic minority group, and will be further disadvantaged if they are female."

In Viet Nam, as elsewhere, ethnic minority families are more likely to be poor, to suffer from malnutrition and sickness, to receive less education and to have less access to land and other resources. Women are doubly burdened as their gender may also be an obstacle preventing them from getting better-paid jobs, making key decisions in their lives, obtaining access to credit, or having their land registered in their name.

Last week the Viet Nam Women's Union celebrated the contribution of millions of Vietnamese women to eliminating hunger and alleviating poverty in Viet Nam. Exemplary women were honoured for their contribution toward alleviating poverty for themselves, their families and their communities. At the UN we commend the identification of these role models; women who have developed strategies and worked tirelessly to lift themselves and others out of poverty. We acknowledged the significant work of Vietnamese ethnic minority women by awarding the UN's top poverty alleviation award to Mme Hoang Thi Mai in 1997. Mme Mai used her fish pond to take a lead role in aquaculture in her village. She became one of the most successful fish raisers in her community and has shared her knowledge and skills with her neighbours.

Hunger and poverty are complex issues, and people's lives are complicated, hence there is no one recipe or answer to preventing hunger and poverty. But one element that is always crucial is the process of empowering the poor—particularly women—to voice their needs, concerns and priorities and their ability to improve their lives through their own efforts.

In this way, the UN agencies in Viet Nam are making sure that participatory planning techniques are used to help the persistently poor address their poverty issues themselves, in a way that is empowering and sustainable. The persistently poor are people whose situation has not improved, and perhaps even worsened, over a long period of time. New strategies are needed to reach these people. Studies are currently being conducted by UN agencies to look into special measures and social safety nets that will enable the persistently poor to improve their lives.

At the doorstep of the new millennium, Viet Nam still faces the challenge of lifting the remaining 37% of the population out of poverty. Improving the lives of the persistently poor will be especially challenging. But given the great strides that this country has already taken along the path to eliminating hunger and poverty, the prospect for success is promising indeed.