Vietnam Takes Stock of Environmental Degradation

HANOI, Vietnam, September 19, 2002 (ENS) - In the last 50 years, Vietnam's natural forest cover has shrunk from 43 to 29 percent of land area, there is an acute shortage of arable land, and habitat loss has led to a rise in the number of threatened species. These facts are described in a new World Bank report issued Wednesday, "Vietnam Environment Monitor 2002."

Since 1992, Vietnam's economy has doubled, poverty has been halved to about 35 percent of the population, exports have risen by an average of 25 percent a year, and foreign direct investment has grown. But this economic growth has brought with it environmental problems experienced by all developing countries.


Carrying chickens through the streets of Saigon (Photos courtesy Simon Rumble)
Swelling urban populations are overwhelming municipal infrastructure and services. Vietnamese cities are marked by unmanaged landfills, transport related air pollution, untreated hazardous waste, and raw sewage flowing in open channels, the report documents.

Sedimentation, plus point and non-point sources of pollution, are threatening the health of rivers. Overfishing and destruction of coral reefs and mangroves have reduced the fishing yield.

Dr. Pham Khoi Nguyen, vice minister, Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, says the data gathered for the report will help the country implement its environmental priorities as outlined in the National Environmental Strategy and Action Plan (2001-2010).

"The Vietnam Environment Monitor 2002 has been developed through significant and effective cooperation between the donors, government agencies and national and international consultants and scientists. We hope its impact on our environmental strategy and policymaking will be significant," he said.

The national strategy aims to change the behavior of polluters, and involve communities and citizens more fully in environmental protection. Governments aim to improve institutional effectiveness, and diversify sources of financing for implementing priority programs.


Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
Klaus Rohland, new World Bank Country Director for Vietnam, says the Monitor is seen as a modest first step to address the fact that impressive growth has come at a price - rapid deterioration in the environmental quality and natural resources. By presenting a snapshot of key environmental trends in the country, it is intended to engage and inform stakeholders of key environmental changes as they occur.

The Danish International Development Agency supported the data collection aspect of the Monitor. It is important to have the data, and equally important that "Vietnamese institutions themselves gather this data and use it for political decisions," said Mikael Winther, Charge d'Affaires for the Embassy of of Denmark.

Vietnam is among the many countries in the East Asia and Pacific Region that the World Bank is assisting in the preparation of Environment Monitors.

Zafer Ecevit, World Bank sector director for Environmental and Social Development said, "We intend to prepare annual monitors for Vietnam, each with special emphasis to priority environment issues in the coming years."