COVID-19 Op-ed

Realising Rice and Rights: The Role of Civil Society in Realising the Right to Food in Vietnam during the Covid-19

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Tania NguyenStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

On 22 January 2020, the very first two-cases of the Covid-19
were confirmed in Vietnam. At the time of this writing, there were 265 infected
people in the country (Worldometer, 2020). Like many other neighbors, Vietnam
has announced a mandate of a two-week-lockdown from 01 April, which is
supposed to extend to 30 April to slow the outbreak (VOA News, 2020). This
national isolation ordered nearly 100 million people go out merely for food
and medical needs, threatens the livelihood of thousands of impoverished and
homeless people who make daily end meet. While the Vietnamese government, due
to the limitation of human and economic resources, has not assured the right
to food of all those vulnerable, civil society organizations and
philanthropic individuals rose to become an effective actor in assisting the
government in the fight of Coronavirus.The Vietnamese government had
considered for a VND 62 trillion (US$2.6 billion) relief package to help
those most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic that has waged devastation on
the economy during three months starting April through June (Vietnam News,
2020). According to this bill, poor households in which bread-winners have to
temporarily stop going out for work as part of the government’s stay-at-home
order and social distancing measures, will receive VND 250 thousand (US$10.8)
each month. There are about 2,244,000 households fall under this category.
Freelancers such as vendors, dustmen, stevedores, motorbike-taxi drivers,
cyclo drivers, lottery ticket sales, etc. are also people who are eligible
for the package, will be supported VND 1 million (US$ 43.6) per person a
month. However, as a matter of practice, even though this bill has been
adopted on 09 April, it is still at a policy level. It has not yet been put
into actual implementation.To help those vulnerable during the pandemic of
Covid-19 in Vietnam, many organizations, and private actors have reacted
immediately by donating food, rice, noodles, instant porridge, medical mask,
and other necessities. Along the streets in Ho Chi Minh city as well as in
Hanoi and nearby provinces, Vietnam, we quickly find donations gifts with
handmade signs written “Feel free to take one package if you are in
need, otherwise please let the chance for other people” in front of many
houses and stores. Among those donors, Hoang Tuan Anh, an entrepreneur in Ho
Chi Minh City who is well-known for creatively installing a homemade ATM
that, rather than cash, provides 24/7 access to the grain to those in need
during the Covid-19 pandemic (Vietnam Insider, 2020). This machine helps
reduce crowding so that the risk of coronavirus transmission will be prevented.
The “rice ATM” project has been so successful that many individuals and
organizations have been inspired to offer their support. Some even drove
their truck with tons of rice to the place. Hundreds of “rice ATM” more have
been planning in other districts and provinces under the permission of the
local government.These examples are powerful demonstrations of the importance
of civil society in Vietnam. Therefore, those who would love to involve in
the civil society and charity services should be encouraged by the
government, rather than being put in difficult situations. It is added that
in Vietnam, if someone wants to do a charity, the person has to ask for
permission from the local government, otherwise, that one will be in trouble
(RFA, 2020).  Tuan Lam Bui, a citizen in Danang, central of Vietnam,
told RFA that he was invited to his area police station and was investigated
for three hours over there. He was accused of violating the government’s
social distancing order by gathering and donating local people food. Another
case, members of Liberal Publishing House, an independent publisher in
Vietnam, have been asking many questions by the governors such as “Who
are you? What are your motivations and purpose of donating things like this?
Why do not you send them all to the local People Committee, and we will help
you to deliver, but do it by yourself?” while they were distributing
food in Hanoi.During the Covid-19 crisis in Vietnam, civil society actively
performs its undeniable contribution, which the Vietnamese government tries
to undermine over the past years in its attempt to set off the leadership of
the Communist Party. It has been playing crucial roles besides the state and
the private sectors as the facilitators, innovators, conveners as well as
service providers, and advocates in resolving social challenges as well as
governance issues. In particular, civil society has joined the fight against
the Coronavirus and assisted the government in protecting the right to food
of those vulnerable people caused by the outbreak. It is not the time for
political calculation, but harmonious cooperation. The Vietnamese government
at all levels should create favorable conditions for voluntary organizations
and individuals so that more and more victims of the invisible enemy are
protected, and their right to food is at least fulfilled.Reference:Daisy
Nguyen, 2020. Meaningful “Rice ATM” project launched successfully during
Covid-19. Vietnam Insider,  10 April.
Available at:<
> .RFA, 2020. Who are eligible to do charity in Vietnam during the
pandemic?/ Ai được làm từ thiện trong mùa dịch tại Việt Nam?  07 April. Available at: <
> .Vietnam News, 2020. Gov’t considering unprecedented US$2.6b support
package for Vietnamese hit by COVID-19. Vietnam News,  02 April. Available at: < 
> .VOA News, 2020. Vietnam Orders National Isolation After Initial
Containment of Coronavirus. VOA News, 
31 March. Available at: <>
.Worldometer, 2020. Coronavirus cases in Vietnam. Worldometer,  14 April. Available at: <

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