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Vietnam – Urban poverty higher than official figures

Current official urban poverty rates are unlikely to reflect the real state of impoverishment in cities nationwide, according to a new report by non-governmental organizations ActionAid and Oxfam.

The government’s poverty line for the 2006-2010 period is an average monthly income of less than VND200,000 (US$11.10) per person in rural areas and below VND260,000 ($14.40) per person in urban areas.

In the context of inflation making the basic cost of living much higher in urban areas, this poverty line is no longer appropriate, as it is too low in comparison with the increase in prices, the report says.

The impacts of food price hikes in 2008 are shown to have particularly affected vulnerable social groups such as migrant workers, small traders and motorbike taxi drivers.

In many cases, a decrease of income or fear of losing work meant they were forced to move to cheaper accommodation, or to areas with poor infrastructure and uncertain land use rights.

Many people reported they had to cut down on spending, and reduce savings and remittances.

The existing data do not reflect the true state of urban poverty as no account is taken of unregistered migrants, said the report. Many migrant households are poor or near poor, yet they are not recorded in official statistics. The migrants are normally excluded from official poverty surveys as they are typically not registered citizens of the cities.

Meanwhile, local management of urban poverty is facing big challenges in terms of human resources, budget and working facilities.

The urban poor, especially migrants, often gather in recently urbanized and peripheral districts, where the basic infrastructure of power, roads, water supply and drainage is of poor quality. Existing policies are inadequate to improve the lives of these inhabitants, the report says.

The report stresses that to effectively address urban poverty, there is a need to thoroughly understand the scale and role of migration, design support programs for specially disadvantaged groups to increase their access to social services and secure safety nets, and give careful consideration to the livelihoods of poor people when developing urban management policies.

ActionAid, an international antipoverty agency, and Oxfam, a group of non-governmental organizations working worldwide to fight poverty and injustice, carried out their joint study in five wards of Hai Phong City and Ho Chi Minh City between May and July 2008.

In-depth interviews were carried out with 537 people and questionnaires were collected from 120 migrant workers.

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