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Environmental pollution

In the wake of đổi mới, the Vietnamese economy developed a considerable dynamic; however, this is associated with serious environmental pollution. Although the Vietnamese government has passed a number of laws on environmental protection in recent years and is committed to sustainable development, it is still lacking in practical implementation.

Air pollution in cities like Hanoi is a major problem and is responsible for many respiratory diseases. For example, in 2017 the air in Hanoi was only clean on 38 days. According to Air Visual data, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi ranked 1st and 3rd in the list of cities with the highest levels of air pollution in the world in September 2019, respectively. At the beginning of October 2019, air pollution in the capital was so high that the authorities advised the population not to leave the house if possible.

In addition to factories near Hanoi, the approximately 26 million mopeds that are on the road on Vietnamese roads and in some cases "pollute" the air are responsible for the poor air quality. However, it is questionable whether a plan by the Hanoi city administration to abolish all mopeds by 2030 can be implemented and even makes sense in this context.

In the course of the reform policy, the production of garbage has increased massively. There are already civil society initiatives to raise awareness for more environmentally sustainable waste disposal, but this is certainly a longer process.

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Science and Technology, almost 50% of the wastewater in the country's industrial zones is discharged into rivers without being treated. The rivers in the south such as the Dong Nai, but also the Mekong, are particularly hard hit.

In October 2019, around one million Hanoi residents were without clean water for days because strangers had disposed of oil at the water source. The whole affair once again made it clear that the supply of the population with clean water is not guaranteed and the responsibility of the various provinces and state and private companies for the water supply in Vietnam has not yet been clarified.

In April 2016, a devastating fish death broke out in the waters of central Vietnam, the causes of which were not yet clear. It was only at the end of June 2016 that the Vietnamese government announced the result of an investigation, according to which a steel factory of the Taiwanese group Formasa in Ha Tinh had caused this environmental disaster by disposing of toxic chemicals.

Ha Long Bay, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, is also affected by environmental pollution, which is caused, among other things, by coal mining in the bay. Although many tourists are still impressed by the beauty of Ha Long Bay, they are also appalled by the extreme degree of pollution of the water. The latter, however, is also due to the fact that the garbage and other residues that arise from the high number of tourists are directed directly into the bay.

As part of a pilot project, a system for cleaning mine water was completed in 2012 with German support, which is intended to reduce the pollution of the region from coal mining.

A particularly blatant environmental problem in recent decades has been the rapid decline in forest stands, which can be traced back to various causes. In the meantime, around 32% of the area of ​​Vietnam is again forested - a result of targeted reforestation measures by the Vietnamese authorities in cooperation with foreign forest experts. German development cooperation is also involved in this area: one example is a project in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in central Vietnam. However, illegal logging is still widespread. There is also evidence that the Vietnamese army is involved in the smuggling of wood from Laos.

The felling of hundreds of trees in the capital Hanoi, famous for its boulevards, sparked massive protests among parts of the public. In response, the city administration initially put the plan to cut down around 7,000 trees "on hold".

Climate change

In addition, the coastal areas of Vietnam in particular are severely affected by climate change. The Mekong Delta in particular is threatened by rising sea levels. Coastal protection is therefore of great importance. There are also plans to strengthen flood protection in Ho Chi Minh City, which is largely only one meter above sea level. In addition, overfishing and the construction of dams in Laos and China pose problems for the Mekong Delta, which affect not only Vietnam but also other neighboring countries.

However, climate change affects not only the south, but also the other parts of the country - in winter 2015, snowfall was observed in some places in central and south Vietnam for the first time in living memory.

In response to climate change, Vietnam adopted a "National Strategy on Climate Change" in December 2011.

Much of the mangrove forests that traditionally protected the Mekong Delta from the floods have been cleared in recent years to make way for shrimp farms. In addition to reforestation, environmentally friendly shrimp farming should now solve the problem - antibiotics are being used on a massive scale in many shrimp farms.

Since vegetables are often heavily polluted due to the excessive use of pesticides, organic vegetables have also been grown for some years.

Agent Orange

The defoliant Agent Orange, which was used extensively by the USA during the Vietnam War and which, as a long-term consequence, led, among other things, to deformities in newborns, continues to pose a special environmental impact. Due to the high financial outlay, the Vietnamese authorities have not been able to carry out a nationwide investigation into the consequences of Agent Orange. The joint research projects on the long-term effects of Agent Orange, which Vietnam and the USA had agreed on, were put on hold by Washington in 2004.

It can only be speculated whether this decision by the US government was connected with the fact that Vietnamese people first sued US courts in early 2004 against American companies that had manufactured Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The lawsuit was dismissed by a US court in March 2005, which caused a great deal of displeasure in Vietnam. In 2007, therefore, some Vietnamese plaintiffs in the USA went to the next higher instance. However, the lawsuit was dismissed by the US Supreme Court in February 2009.

The USA is now helping Vietnam financially to clean up the areas contaminated by Agent Orange. However, this does not mean that the US accepts responsibility for the long-term consequences of the Agent Orange deployment.

The many mines and grenades that lie underground, especially near the 17th parallel, the former demarcation line, are a legacy of the war. Many NGOs, including those that came into being on the initiative of US veterans, are trying to contribute to the fight against this legacy of war.

biodiversity

Vietnam is characterized by a very large biodiversity. These include, for example, rare species of monkeys such as langurs, such as gibbons. In recent years, the country has made a name for itself with the discovery of previously unknown animal species. The Saola, which is also known as the "Asian unicorn" and resembles the antelope, was discovered around 20 years ago in Central Vietnam. Special programs have been initiated to protect the Saola. At the same time, however, the trade in rare animals has increased, so that biodiversity is severely threatened. This is true of a number of rare animals. In 2010 the last specimen of the Javanese rhinoceros was killed in Vietnam. The demand for rhinos in Vietnam is now being met by illegal imports from South Africa. The number of animals shot in South Africa has increased massively since 2010. The horn is processed into medicine in Vietnam. After the South African and Vietnamese governments signed an agreement to protect rhinos, there was some hope that smuggling would decrease, but it has not been fulfilled. In November 2014, two Vietnamese citizens were arrested in South Africa for attempting to smuggle 41kg of rhinoceros out of the country - according to the authorities, the largest smuggling case in South Africa to date.

The number of elephants living in the wild in Vietnam has also fallen sharply from 1500 to 2000 specimens in 1980 to around 70 to 100 at present. The "need" for ivory is therefore now covered by illegal imports from abroad. So it is no coincidence that French customs in Paris seized the largest amount of smuggled ivory from a Vietnamese couple at the end of 2015.

Another "export good" to Vietnam is the pangolin, which is also an endangered species and is available in Vietnamese restaurants for US $ 250 per kilo.

A particular problem is that many animals are used in the manufacture of traditional medicine. In Vietnam, for example, the idea persists that rhino is good for health in the form of traditional medicine. Bears are also kept in cages in Vietnam to "draw off" their bile - also for tourists from Taiwan and South Korea. Projects that campaign for the protection of bears, among other things, have to fight massive business interests in Vietnam. With the official backing of the Vietnamese government, the international animal welfare organization "Animals Asia" was able to free the last collar bears that were kept in Ha Long Bay in January 2016.

The fundamental problem with species protection is that many of the endangered animal species are also on the "menu" of the newly rich Vietnamese elite and that there is generally no great public interest in enforcing the existing laws on species protection. Various NGOs try to influence public awareness through campaigns and to outlaw the wildlife trade.

The certainly justified criticism of the lack of species protection in Vietnam should not go too far: in February 2013, the article by a US journalist who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize heatedly, according to which almost the entire animal world in Vietnam had been "consumed" by the local population and Above all - according to the author - the consumption of dog meat, which is widespread throughout the country, has led to a particularly aggressive foreign policy, not just in Vietnam itself.

Since the new penal code came into force in 2018, successes have been achieved in the fight against trade in endangered species. In general, however, there is a lack of implementation of the existing laws for the protection of biodiversity, especially at the provincial level.