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Poor families struggling to cope with rising food prices in Vietnam

Yesterday, the UK’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell announced the results of two reviews looking into the UK’s future aid giving.

As part of the ‘Bilateral Aid Review’ conducted by the Department for International Development (DFID), it was decided that all aid programmes in Vietnam would close by 2016. Until that time, DFID will continue helping Vietnam achieve its Millennium Development Goals in primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention and sanitation.

Sanitation is a key area where the Vietnamese government continues to focus, as well as on clean water supplies. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) this month announced that it would loan Vietnam 1 billion dollars to improve clean water access for 3 million people. Four out of every ten families in the largest cities have no water supply system and around 20,000 families will be provided with their first water connection.

In December, international donors including the ADB pledged 7.9 billion in total to Vietnam for 2011. However, as with the UK government, some donors are starting to turn their attention elsewhere when it comes to aid donations. In 2010, the amount pledged was higher at 8.2 billion. Through the remaining years of DFID’s involvement (2011-2015) in Vietnam, the UK expects to allocate a further 70 million pounds to help support existing projects. The reduction in international aid to Vietnam is because of the country’s impressive record on reducing poverty. The decision that DFID would close all its programmes by 2016 was made because Vietnam is now considered to be “a non-aid dependent middle income country and a vibrant emerging economy”.

However, despite its strong economy, IRIN reports that some of Vietnam’s poorest families are struggling to keep pace with sharp rises in the cost of food, fuel and electricity. Inflation has been increasing each month since August 2010 and reached 12.2 per cent in January. According to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), around a fifth of Vietnamese still survive on less than a dollar per day. Some experts on the country are therefore worried many poor families will struggle to cope if prices rise much further.

Speaking to IRIN, one teacher in the capital Ho Chi Minh City spoke of how the rising food costs are affecting her class sizes. Nguyen Bich Hanh said “fewer kids are coming to school because they need to help their families”. So far, Vietnam has done well in ensuring almost all children are enrolled in primary school and nearly 90 per cent complete at least five years of school (according to the UN office of Vietnam). But with hard economic times ahead, enrolment rates could lower as more children drop out. The teacher warns that even though Vietnam is seen to be “richer”, for some families “this does not matter if [they] cannot afford anything”.

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