‘Rice ATMs’ Across Vietnam Are Feeding People Amid Covid19 Lockdown
Amid rising concerns about food insecurity during the global Covid19 pandemic, Vietnam’s poor are lining up outside “rice ATMs,” automatic dispensing machines set up across the country that provide free rice to people, Reuters reported.
While in Ho Chi Minh City, 1.5 kilograms of rice per person is disbursed from silos around the clock, in Hanoi, rice is dispensed from a water tank into people’s bags between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Reportedly, more rice ATMs will be set up in different locations across Vietnam by next week. While waiting in line, people are required to stand six feet apart and sanitize their hands.
With 265 positive Covid19 cases, Vietnam has not reported any deaths so far. Following PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s announcement of a 15-day nationwide social distancing program on March 31, a number of small business shut down and laid off workers, leaving thousands without an income. Hoang Tuan Anh, the businessman behind the concept of rice ATMs, said that he did not want people to be deprived of access to food due to the financial constraints. The system involves collection of rice from donors, which is then added to the rice ATMs for disbursal.
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As economies around the world tank due to social and economic halts following Covid19 lockdowns, half a billion people around the world — especially informal sector workers in developing countries — could be thrown into poverty, an Oxfam report last week stated. To reduce the financial burden on its citizens, the State Bank of Vietnam has assured economic solutions including reductions in interest rates and tax rates in addition to rolling out a stimulus package from the government.
In the interim, the rice ATMs are feeding the needy. “This rice ATM has been helpful. With this one bag of rice, we can have enough for one day. Now, we only need other food. Our neighbors sometimes gave us some leftover food, or we have instant noodles,” Nguyen Thi Ly, a local resident and mother of three whose husband lost his job due to the pandemic, told Reuters. Most of Vietnam’s poor are now similarly relying on the rice ATMs to feed their families. Ly hopes that the donors continue providing rice until the end of the pandemic.