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QUANG TRI, Vietnam — Filled with the constant roar of motorcycle traffic, Vietnam’s cities, including Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, are bustling with excitement as the country enjoys rapid economic growth.

Thanks to the economic development — an average of 7.5 percent in gross domestic product over the past five years through 2005 — Vietnam has so far made good progress in poverty reduction.

Official development assistance has also played an important role. ODA donor countries committed a combined $4.45 billion in aid for Vietnam for 2007 — the largest amount yet for the country — at a meeting in December. Japan is one of the largest donor countries, with an $890 million commitment.

According to the United Nations Development Program, Vietnam reduced poverty rates — the proportion of people who live on less than $1 a day — to 24.1 percent in 2004 from over 58.1 percent in 1993.

The government hopes to lower the percentage to 11 percent by 2010.

“Vietnam is one of the few (developing) countries that has successfully connected economic growth and poverty reduction,” said Ayumi Konishi, director of the Asian Development Bank’s Vietnam office.

But it is also true that some people, especially in rural areas, are still lagging, as in other fast-growing nations, including China, where the gap between wealthy coastal cities and poor inland regions is increasing.

In the case of Vietnam, curbing poverty requires reducing income inequality between the dominant ethnic group, the Kinh, and ethnic minorities living in mountainous areas.

While there are more than 50 ethnic minority groups, their population accounts for only 14 percent of the total population. But still, ethnic minorities account for nearly one-third of the poor, according to UNDP.

The government, along with multilateral development agencies, is focusing on the poor ethnic minorities in the mountains who remain isolated from the country’s economic growth.

One such project to improve the living conditions of the rural poor was the water supply program in the Dakrong district in Quang Tri Province — a mountainous area in central Vietnam.

“Our family’s life is much better now,” said Ho Thi Huong, who lives in the Dakrong village of Mo O with her husband and two children. Mo O is home to the Van Kieu tribe.

“We used to walk 1 km to draw water from the Dakrong River or from the mountain stream every day,” the woman in her mid-30s said.

The construction of the water supply facility, completed in 2003 at a cost of roughly $410,000, was partially financed by the ADB, an international development institution working to reduce poverty in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan, coequally with the United States, is the largest donor country for the ADB.

The facility has a daily capacity of 3,000 cu. meters, serving water to some 10,000 people in the province.

Although there is no official data, the people in the district are less prone to digestive disorders and kidney disease after gaining access to clean water, said Quang Tran, an official of the facility.

Huong’s family uses water supplied from the facility only for drinking and still depends on river water for laundry and bathing.

The water supply project is one of the successful examples of improving the living conditions of the poor. UNDP says the proportion of people with access to clean water rose to 70 percent in 2004 from 26.2 percent in 1993, while the rural proportion increased to 58 percent in 2004 from 18 percent.

However, to truly eradicate poverty, another step must follow.

Huong said her family’s annual income is only about $250. Her husband, the family’s breadwinner, grows peanuts and beans on land he rents from the government.

Asked what she wants next, Huong said: “There are too many things to count. . . . We don’t even have a toilet and a bathroom in our house.”

Konishi of the ADB said the government needs to place more emphasis on fighting poverty in rural areas.

In addition to developing infrastructure and providing medical services and education, he said greater efforts to promote regional trade are also needed to create jobs for the poor, as seen in the development of industrial zones now under way in central Vietnam.

“A remote village will no longer be isolated if the movement of people and goods is facilitated.”

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