Through its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nations hopes to inspire development efforts in countries around the world. The MDGs for charting progress between 1990 and 2015 have set targets for five year’s time which would cut world hunger and poverty in half (those living on less than 1.25 dollars per day), reduce child mortality rates by two thirds and maternal mortality rates by three quarters, and ensure there is universal primary education for all children.
A recent report by Oxfam, ‘Halving World Hunger: Still Possible’ highlights the progress of Vietnam towards achieving the Millennium goals. According to Oxfam’s country director, Vietnam is proving a role model for other countries, with a track record which is “one of the best in the world”. The percentage of people living in poverty in Vietnam has already been cut from 58 per cent in 1993 to 18 per cent this year, which means Vietnam has met the MDG target five years ahead of time. This progress equates to pulling 6,000 people out from below the extreme poverty level each day.
In terms of education, the office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Vietnam believes there will be full primary enrolment by 2015, given the fact that the country had a 95% enrolment rate by 1999. However, girls still frequently drop out of school well before boys, due to their expected role in family activities and the country has reaffirmed its commitment to reducing the gender gap.
The WHO attests to the country’s success in reducing poverty and maternal mortality rates to levels which already meet the MDGs. But even though these are impressive achievements, the WHO points to the many challenges which still face Vietnam, particularly the growing disparity between rich and poor. This disparity is particularly evident when comparing the urban and rural populations. Sanitation is still a problem for rural communities, where over 30% of people do not have access to improved facilities, though again much progress has been made, because in 1990 this figure stood at over 70% in rural areas.
According to the World Bank, Gross Domestic Product in Vietnam was below 100 dollars per head in 1990. Today, it is well over 1,000 dollars. This is because the country has prospered as a cheap manufacturing base for industries making clothes, footwear and furniture. The textile industry alone employs around 1.7 million Vietnamese, where the monthly wage for a worker starts at around 84 dollar. This kind of wage is lower than countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and China, therefore Vietnam is seen as competitive in the global economy.
But it is important that Vietnam is not only held up as an example of economic growth, but also, thanks to its commitment to the MDGs, as a country determined to improve the distribution of its wealth down to the poorest in society.