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In Vietnam Rural Poor Move to Urban Poverty

Nguoi-viet.com, News report, Jami Farkas Posted: Dec 02, 2009

Using her facemask to pad the sweat on her suntanned brow, Nguyen Kim Thu looks dispiritedly at her stall, which is still filled with vegetables, as few customers have called since she opened early in the morning.

But the vegetable trader doesnt dare close the stall, even for a short 15-minute lunch, because she is afraid of missing that rare customer. She buys a small morsel of steamed glutinous rice that she can eat without going anywhere.

''I know there are few customers at noon. But its good to grab even one more customer. Vegetables have been selling slowly for several days, and I havent made any profit,'' the 45-year-old woman said.
Thu, an employee at an engineering factory in Hanoi, has to sell vegetables for extra income because she has been asked to take days off from work by the company, which is going through tough financial times.

She buys wholesale vegetables every morning at 3 a.m. and resells them at an open-air market on the dusty and crowded pavement on Minh Khai Street in Hanoi.

Thus husband, a retired blacksmith, runs a small motorbike repair shop on Bach Mai Street. But he also has trouble earning money as he has no formal training and motorists prefer taking their bikes to branded repair shops.

''I make $2.20 a day on average. On lucky days, maybe $3.30 to $3.85,'' Thu said.

''My husband gets only $1.65. The money is not enough to cover our living expenses in the city. I always have to borrow money from my relatives in order to live.''

High inflation in the last two years has hurt the poor. Prices climbed 2.99 percent in October from a year earlier after gaining 2.42 percent in September, according to the General Statistics Office. Inflation had reached 28.3 percent in August 2008, the highest since at least 1992.

Thu said with the money she earns a day, she could buy a kilo of pork two years ago, but now she can barely get half a kilo.

Despite the hard life, Thus lot is better than motorbike-taxi driver Than Van Loi, as his meager income threatens to stop his childrens education.

''My wife is unemployed, and my income is not enough to live, let alone pay school fees for my sons. If I do not make enough money, my oldest son may have to quit school and go to work at a car wash,'' he said.

His two sons school fees account for some 15 percent of his monthly income of nearly $84, which only barely covers the four-member familys living expenses for a little more than half a month.

However, Loi, like many other migrants, does not want to return to their villages, as even this meager income is bigger than their earnings from rice cultivation. His family farms land, but their subsistence still depends on the money he sends from the city, as earnings from the cultivation is just $55 to $110 for each harvest.

Loi cannot buy any insurance for his family. ''Without social and health insurance, I do not know Ill manage if I fall sick.''

Although localities offer free health insurance cards to the poor, Loi cannot benefit from it as he is a migrant, and above the official poverty line.

Hanoi, after its annexation of the former Ha Tay Province, has adopted a new poverty line of income below $28 per person per month for the inner city and below $18 for the outskirts.

Thu and Loi are bonafide residents of the capital city, albeit very poor. Then there are thousands of migrants from all over the country who come to major cities in the country in search of employment, who are not registered residents and might not even be counted among the urban poor when these statistics are compiled.

The Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs has said it is building a draft social welfare strategy that expands the welfare umbrella to include more people.

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