Workers on an irrigation project in Cao Tan Commune in the northern mountainous province of Bac Kan. — (Photo: backan.gov.vn)

Quang Ninh (VNS/VNA) - More than 9,100 infrastructure projects have been built and nearly 3,300 others have been maintained in some of the countries most disadvantaged communes over the past three years thanks to Programme 135.

The projects involving transport, irrigation, schools, healthcare centres, water supply, power and other fields have helped improve the living standards and production of ethnic minority people living in the most disadvantaged areas of Vietnam.

Programme 135 - Programme for Socio-economic Development in Specially-disadvantaged Communes in Ethnic Minority and Mountainous Areas - was launched 20 years ago by the government.

The programme is in its third phase from 2016 to 2020, with 2,139 communes in 46 provinces across the country benefiting.

Programme 135 has been part of a major poverty reduction drive in Vietnam that has received priority and support from the government, development partners and international organisations.

In 2016, Programme 135 was included in the national target efforts for sustainable poverty reduction during 2016-2020.

According to the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA), in the last three years, as much as 19.226 trillion VND (830 million USD) from the national budget was allocated for Programme 135, of which nearly 11.5 trillion VND (495.5 million USD) had been disbursed.

Quang Ninh, Khanh Hoa, Vinh Phuc, Dong Nai, Can Tho and Ba Ria – Vung Tau did not need funding from the national budget to cover their implementation of Programme 135. Instead, they spent about 959 billion VND from their local budgets.

Programme 135 has also received 10 million euros from Ireland as a part of a non-refundable grant to improve infrastructure in specially disadvantaged communes in nine provinces, as well as other technical and financial support from international organisations like the World Bank and CARE International.

Programme 135 also offers support to develop production, diversify livelihoods and expand poverty reduction models among ethnic minority people.

 The programme has also helped to improve the capacity of people and commune officials in planning, project management and project implementation.

Deputy Minister and vice chairman of CEMA Le Son Hai said that investment in mountainous areas which were home to ethnic minority groups meant investment for development.

Ethnic minority groups deserved more support and investment to catch up with development.

He said that the government had decentralised and empowered local departments to assess, approve and implement projects so they could be carried out more quickly.

Nguyen Thanh Nhan, policy advocacy advisor of CARE International in Vietnam, said without changes to assist ethnic minority groups, they would remained the poorest in the country.

Nhan applaunded Government Decision 161/2016/ND-CP issued two years ago which allows small projects to enjoy special investment mechanisms that simplify investment procedures. Local People’s Committees take the role of project investors while the community develops and cares for the projects using both the State budge and people’s contributions.

Many infrastructure projects in specially disadvantaged communes were eligible for the mechanism that could cut costs by 20-30 percent, Nhan said, citing the results of a study conducted by an independent consulting company.

The study also showed that decentralisation could be seen in most provinces but communes faced difficulties fulfilling the role of project investors and ensuring the participation of local residents.

By the end of last year, people from ethnic minority groups accounted for 14.3 percent of Vietnam’s total population, while poor households from ethnic minority groups accounted for 52.66 percent, according to CEMA’s statistics. One in every three people from ethic minority groups was living under the poverty line. – VNS/VNA