Viet Nam is located in Southeast Asia with a total land area of 329,314 square kilometers and a coast line of approximately 3,200 kilometers. According to the 2009 national census, the total population was estimated at 85.85 million, with women accounting for 50.60% of the total. Viet Nam's average annual population growth rate was 1.2% between 1999 and 2009, down from 1.7% in the previous 10 years. The urban population now accounts for about 29.6% of the total and between 1999 and 2009 the average annual growth rate of the urban population was 3.4% per year , mainly due to migration. (Viet Nam General Statistics Office 2010, United Nations 2010)
Viet Nam has 64 cities and provinces. Ha Noi in the north is the capital city with the population of approximately 6.45 million people while Ho Chi Minh City in the south is the largest urban area, with a population estimated at 7.16 million. There are an 54 different ethnic groups in the country. (Viet Nam General Statistics Office, 2010)
GDP growth was an estimated 5.3% in 2009, one of the highest rates in the world but lower than past years due to the effects of the global economic crisis.
A Success Story of Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction
Over the last several decades Viet Nam has gone through a period of rapid socio-economic development. After reunification in 1975, Viet Nam switched its focus to reconstruction and development. However, due to the severe damages caused by many years of war, policy weaknesses and a difficult international environment, Viet Nam’s economy experienced a long period of crisis during the 1970s and 1980s. To overcome these difficulties the Doi Moi (renovation) process was initiated in 1986 with the following main elements:
- Shifting from a planned centralized economy based on public ownership to a multi-sector economy based on the market;
- Democratizing social life by building a state on the basis of the rule of law;
- Strengthening external cooperation with other countries.
On the back of these reforms Viet Nam has seen rapid economic growth. Since 1990, Viet Nam’s GDP nearly tripled based on an average annual GDP growth rate of 7.5% - up until the global economic crisis in 2008. Growth suffered in 2008 (6.2%) and 2009 (5.3%) and is estimated to remain sluggish in 2010. Nevertheless, The percentage of the population living below the poverty line, estimated at 58% in 1993 has decreased to under 12% in 2009. Domestic resources for development have increased and international trade and foreign direct investment have dramatically expanded over the past two decades.
Viet Nam is currently nearing the end of its Socio-economic Development Strategy for 2001 – 2010 and is planning for new the Socio-Economic Development Strategy (SEDS) for 2011 – 2020. The previous two SEDS (1991-2000 and 2001-2010) have helped Viet Nam advance from a largely poor, agricultural-based economy to a wealthier, market-based and rapidly developing one, increasingly integrated into the regional and global community. In 2010 it is estimated Viet Nam will enter middle income country status, and the new SEDS aims to establish the foundation for Viet Nam to become a modern, industrialized country by 2020.
Based on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the country’s own aspirations, Viet Nam has also established its own 12 development goals (referred to as Viet Nam’s Development Goals or VDGs), which include social and poverty reduction targets. The VDGs reflect the MDGs and at the same time take into account the specific development features of Viet Nam. The VDGs are integrated into the national socio-economic development strategies and are translated into specific targets.
The Government of Viet Nam has issued many documents to guide the implementation of the MDGs and the VDGs. These include the Comprehensive Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy (approved in 2002), and the Orientation for a Sustainable Development Strategy (also called Viet Nam’s Agenda 21, issued in 2004). A range of socio-economic programmes has also been launched throughout the country.
Taken together, these strategies and collective efforts have taken Viet Nam from being one of the poorest in the world only a few decades ago to a rapidly growing middle income country. In general, Viet Nam’s growth record over the past two decades has been largely driven by a combination of steady economic reforms, integration into the world economy and a stable macroeconomic environment.
Viet Nam has made significant achievements in relation to achieving the MDS, and is on track to achieve most of the targets set by the MDGs by 2015. However, an "unfinished agenda" remains in relation to several of the MDGs including maternal mortality and malnutrition, and water and sanitation.
Progress at the aggregate level masks significant disparity between different groups and regions in relation to achieving key MDG targets and indicators. For example, infant mortality is significantly higher than average in regions such as the Central Highlands and the north. And as is well known, maternal mortality is much higher in certain regions and among ethnic minority populations while the Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is static at the aggregate level.
Despite advances in reproductive health (RH) and gender equality, significant gaps remain: people living in remote areas lack adequate access to gender-sensitive RH information and services, and large population segments practise unsafe health behaviours. Young women are at high risk from unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Nationally, the number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) is increasing rapidly. Socio-economic change has contributed to increased internal migration, and since the majority of migrants, particularly women, are of reproductive age, they are especially vulnerable to RH related risks, including HIV.
While women’s representation in political and managerial positions is improving, women remain under-represented in all levels of administration, especially at provincial and local levels. Much remains to be done in capacity building for better governance; fighting corruption; enhancing the role of the media; and creating an enabling environment for business development. The institutional and legal framework for greater people’s participation and civil society development, accountability and transparency at all levels are not fully in place.
Viet Nam is also prone to natural disasters, including typhoons, storms, floods, droughts, mudslides, and forest fires, with the poorest people in society the most vulnerable. More than one million people require emergency relief each year. At the same time, climate change models predict that that Viet Nam will be one worst affected countries globally.
Finally, much remains to be done to implement environmental laws, strategies and global conventions, and improve environmental governance, in order to ensure that fast economic growth will not lead to environmental degradation, greater health risks or rapid depletion of biodiversity and other natural resources.
Viet Nam’s Development Strategy
To address these and other related challenges, the development strategy of the country is set out in the various ten-year SEDS approved by the Government and the Communist Party, and the five-year plans and sectoral plans derived from these. The strategy and plans for 2011-2010 are currently being finalized, and have been informed by national consultations conducted through the Party with mass organizations such as the Women’s, Youth and Farmers’ Unions and the Viet Nam Fatherland Front, the UN and other international and national partners. The Millennium Development Goals and other international commitments provide consistent benchmarks against which Viet Nam is able to measure progress.
The UN has advocated for a balance int he next SEDS between economic goals and targets and human and social development priorities. Looking forward to the next 5-10 years, the UN sees the need to consolidate the gains made to date, in order to ensure sustainable recovery, broad-based and inclusive growth, and greater social inclusion.
For more information on how the UN works with the Viet Nam Government and other partners to address these issues, see The UN in Viet Nam.