Viet Nam’s rapid growth: at what environmental costs?
By Do Nam Thang, PhD Viet Nam Environmental Protection Administration Ministry of Natural Resources and Government 67 – Nguyen Du – Ha Noi – Viet Nam Email: email@example.com
Paper presented at the Conference on ‘Emergence of Vietnam as a Middle Income Country: Opportunities, Constraints and Regional Implications’ 30-31 October 2008 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
Located in Southeast Asia, Viet Nam has an area of 329,560 sq km and a population of 85 million. Viet Nam's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased at an average rate of about seven per cent per year in the period of 1997-2006. This makes Viet Nam one of the fastest growing economies in the region. Industrial production remains strong and investment solid. To attain a goal of having ‘rich people, strong country and a just, democratic and civilised society’, maintaining high economic growth rate is a key task set by the Government of Viet Nam (Viet Nam Political Bureau 2004).
However, parallel with economic growth, Viet Nam is facing environmental problems. These include deforestation, degradation in environmental quality in river basins, increase in municipal and industrial solid waste and soil erosion (Viet Nam Political Bureau 2004). Most industrial and municipal wastewaters are discharged untreated to rivers and that worsens surface water pollution. Municipal solid waste has increased at 15 per cent per annum while the capacity to collect and treat remains limited. About 50 per cent of land is losing its fertility due to overuse of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and improper cultivation practices (Viet Nam Political Bureau 2004).
This paper analyses the stress placed on the country’s environment resulting from the fast growth. The stress includes high population growth, rapid urbanisation, increased need for transport network expansion and exploitation of natural resources. The paper then analyses consequent environmental problems including air pollution, water pollution, solid waste and biodiversity loss. After reviewing policy responses to environmental problems as well as shortcomings of the policy responses, the paper provides a set of recommendations for the policymakers for their consideration. In this paper, it is argued that rapid growth has created serious environmental problems and that more effective policy responses are needed to tackle the problems.
Pressure on the environment
The environment has suffered from great pressure of several growth factors, including population growth and urbanisation, increased transport activities, expanded industry and construction activities and exploitation of natural resources.
Population growth and urbanisation
With the population of 85 million people, Viet Nam is the third in Southeast Asia and 14th in the world. The population annual growth rate is 1.7 per cent. The distribution of the population is uneven. The Mekong River Delta and Red River Delta account for only 17 per cent of the land, but are habitat for 43 per cent of the population. The uneven population density is due to uncontrolled migration from rural to urban areas. The migration from rural to urban areas is three times higher than the migration from urban to rural areas. For example, from 1994 to 1999, about 1.2 million people migrated from rural to urban areas, whereas only 0.4 million people moved from urban to rural areas (MONRE 2005a).
Associated with population growth is urbanisation. Over the last two decades, urbanisation has occurred rapidly. In 1990, there were 500 urban towns. This number increased to 650 in 2000 and 700 in 2004 (MONRE 2005b). The urban population growth...