Reflections from Viet Nam

It is difficult to write a brief summary of our time in Viet Nam and what we observed and experienced. There are very strong contradictions in the relationship between people and the environment. Viet Nam is developing rapidly. The negative side of this are large open cast mines as we observed in Thai Nguyen, intensification of agriculture and the negative consequences of this as we observed in the Mekong. There is no apparent focus on the appropriateness and consequences of such developments. On the other hand there are official programmes to protect and enhance the environment, many of which are supported by NGOs and foreign government aid programmes. With people offering contacts and then not helping us at all it became impossible for us to see any of the more positive initiatives. However, informally, we found evidence of people acting and working positively for the future in their local communities.

If I think about the challenges posed by climate change in the context of the above then it is clear to me that solutions won’t come easily for Viet Nam. Some of the government programmes, such as reafforestation efforts, are having positive impacts as we saw locally in Hue. However, in the ‘rice basket’ of Viet Nam, the Mekong Delta, the challenges will be very great. There are no easy solutions there. Before we came to Viet Nam our Thai friends expressed concern about intensification of rice production and we heard about the consequences of this. There are areas already affected by drought and seasonal effects of salinisation. Insect pest problems, pollution of waterways, erosion of canal banks, are all local issues that will be further compounded by climate change. The push for increased rice production, with three crops a year in many places now, is not sustainable with these multiple challenges.

The Viet Nam situation is in strong contrast to the growing momentum of the self sufficient economy approach in Thailand. People there, albeit a minority still, are awakening to the consequences of unsustainable practices and there is a groundswell for change, along with a growing awareness of the challenges posed by climate change. In Viet Nam the pressure for economic development is creating all sorts of tensions. The most positive impression I carry is the natural warmth and wisdom of the rural people we encountered. This is where the real hope lies for Viet Nam in my view, if positive ways can be found to empower these people and somehow minimise or overcome the real desperation for money that is so evident to a foreigner in the urban areas. I believe the lessons we carried from Thailand could be of great benefit to Viet Nam.

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