Paper: The mask is not worth our spending: Where does the problem of urban poverty may lie?

Paper details

Paper authors Le Thao Chi Vu
In panel on COVID-19 beyond Health Insecurity
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


The current wave of covid-19 raging in Ho Chi Minh- the economic hub of Vietnam- since the end of April 2021 has exposed many underlying issues of the city, of which poverty is the dominant concern, despite that the city claimed to have recorded no poor household (upon national poverty line in 2019.) While Covid-19 was seen as a foreseen contingency when new infections were detected, the poor people in Ho Chi Minh were nowhere near prepared for this. They refused to change and buy new masks despite their fear of infection. To them, their meager income should go for rice, not for disposable masks. They, therefore, were relieved when given free masks from outside charity groups. Insurance and prevention is the luxury that the poor cannot afford.
Poverty in Ho Chi Minh shares similar characteristics in other urban areas: heterogeneous communities; unstable jobs of high mobility (typical in informal sectors); cash-payment dependence (ditto.); high vulnerability in case of contingencies; and the burden of decision-making in every aspect of life. These characteristics pose mounting challenges to empowerment, which aspires to help people make a good choice, which eventually leads to a good life.
The paper aims to articulate the challenges mentioned above to the practice of empowerment in the context of urban areas. It also calls for the need to protect the urban poor from falling deeper into poverty in case of contingency by reducing the burden of decision-making for the poor and the cost of that process. Masks should not be at the cost of rice and vice versa.



Le Thao Chi Vu