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Poverty Grows in Vietnam After String of Environmental Disasters

As poverty rates continue to fall around the globe, Vietnam faces new challenges as a result of climate change and other environmental factors.

Last week, the World Bank released a new report highlighting the world’s continued progress in alleviating poverty. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of people who managed to rise above the global poverty line – an income of US$1.90 a day, adjusted for local prices – averaged around 88 million a year, reports Vox.

While poverty rates have fallen around the world, East Asia has been particularly successful in its quest to improve incomes. In 1990, 60.2% of the region’s population lived in extreme poverty; by 2013, that figure was just 3.5%.

In Vietnam specifically, poverty rates fell from 60% to 20.7% of the population between 1993 and 2013, according to the World Bank. The country also appeared several times in the latest report, where the World Bank pointed to a series of programs that succeeded in helping many Vietnamese improve their lives and income.

However, while the East Asia Pacific region has made great strides in alleviating poverty, the area is still susceptible to a number of external factors which could undo some of its growth.

“Even with this remarkable progress, however, some 90 million people still live in extreme poverty – and another 300 million are vulnerable to falling back into poverty as a result of climate change, natural disasters, disease and economic shocks,” the World Bank writes.

Today, government data puts 6% of Vietnamese families, or roughly 1.4 million households, below the poverty line, reports VnExpress. These families earn less than VND4.8 million annually, however policy changes later this year will redefine the poverty line as an annual income of less than VND8.4 million per person. Under the new definition, Vietnam’s impoverished families will total 10%, or over 2.3 million households.

The current figure is an increase from last year’s 4.5%. In a recent report, Vietnamese authorities attributed this rise in poverty to natural and environmental disasters, including the Mekong Delta’s historic drought, desertification along the south-central coast and Formosa’s toxic chemical calamity in central Vietnam.

According to Nguyen Bich Lam, head of the country’s statistics office, the latter environmental disaster will have a significant long-term effect on the Vietnamese economy.

“The impacts of the incident will last for years, affecting a number of industries including tourism," Lam told VnExpress.

Earlier this year, officials in Quang Binh estimated the province’s losses could reach VND4 trillion (US$179.4 million) by the end of 2016, while official data showed fishing output in Quang Tri, Quang Binh, Thua-Thien Hue and Ha Tinh has declined significantly, according to VnExpress.

Though the Formosa chemical dump is but one incident, the World Bank warns that the East Asia Pacific region is especially susceptible to external factors like climate change and environmental disasters.

“The region includes 13 of the 30 countries that are most vulnerable to climate change,” the organization writes. “It also bears the brunt of 70% of the world’s natural disasters, which have affected more than 1.6 billion people in the region since 2000.”

Video via World Bank.

[Photo via Thanh Nien]

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