To avoid “grow first, clean up later”
VietNamNet Bridge - Environmental sustainability is the main objective of the Government to avoid the problem of "grow first, clean up later," which is the development strategy of a number of other Asian countries.

Land tax does not bring in revenue

No topic is closely related to land policy as environmental management. No activities of the Vietnamese Government to promote growth, increase competitive advantage, improve social welfare or to pursue the goals of modernization and middle income can be separated from environmental issues. And there is no aspect of the environment can be separated from the land and the space in which it is associated. Land and environment are linked and depend completely on each other. However, so far, in fact the link between environmental management and land policy is very weak.

It is difficult to assess environmental management in Vietnam. Vietnam has made impressive achievements and values in banning forest exploitation on a large scale, strong support of the State (including incentives) for forest restoration, efforts in the protection of mangroves, marine resource management, expansion of the national parks, nature reserves and special-use forests.

However, other activities are going contrary to the above results. Pesticides, herbicides are use rampantly, causing pollution in the Mekong Delta and Red River Delta. These areas are currently under pressure from industrialization and urbanization.

The excessive use of groundwater in the Mekong Delta region causes saltwater intrusion and land subsidence. Dams and hydroelectric plants as Son La, Yali ... have made negative effects locally and in the downstream regions.

Rapid growth of individual public means of transport makes the increase of urban smoke and dust. Waste treatment systems in industrial parks are slowly installed, making solid waste and hazardous materials spill into river systems and absorb into the soil. Upstream pollution has increased the cost of water treatment and water purification that consumers have to pay.

There are many projects, including the support of international donors, are underway or set up to deal with environmental issues.

Environmental sustainability is the main objective of the Government to avoid the problem of "grow first, clean up later," which is the development strategy of a number of other Asian countries. More importantly, sustainable environment is the foundation for objective to become a middle-income industrial country in 2020.

In recent years, many discussions focused on environmental challenges and consequences of climate change. The forecast shows that a large area of the two deltas and the coastal area will be flooded and the downstream areas and many forests will suffer from severe weather. In a few scenarios are given, the temperature increase will make a longer dry season and increase the frequency of drought, making farmers to change farming practices.

These potential threats show the need to have prevention plans from now on to ensure strategies for mitigating the consequences of natural disasters and adapt to climate change.

Although the effects of climate change are predicted to be very serious for many regions and countries, it is necessary to check the prediction. Vietnam currently has serious problems related to environment. The negative environmental impacts in the past should be handled while Vietnam still has to pay attention to the current problems.

There are two reasons for doing this. First, it will help to prevent or at least mitigate them from causing further damage. Second, the appropriate action today will create the conditions (policy, process, power, institutions, etc.) and the ability to help the country deal with the consequences of climate change when they appear.

Unclear environmental achievements bring many opportunities and pose challenges for Vietnam. Forest restoration and control of wood exploitation, renovation of bare hills, improving midland and mountainous land management create more spillovers.

The afforestation program has contributed significantly to the process of carbon absorption. Stable maintenance of watershed areas helps reduce the risk from frequent floods. Watershed protection also helps reduce sediment congestion and environmental pollution for the downstream areas, improving the performance of the operation depending on the watershed. Reducing the accumulation of sediment will extend the life of dams and reservoirs, limit river and port dredging. Wastewater treatment plants can work stably, reducing the operating, replacement and maintenance costs.

In contrast, the pollution problems associated with the abuse (and even irregular use) of pesticides, herbicides have made direct impacts on product quality, especially grains, seafood products and fruits. These toxic products adversely affect the health of Vietnamese consumers. When being exported, these products are tightly controlled by the health agencies in foreign countries, and this is affecting the reputation of Vietnam in becoming a responsible exporter.

Soil salinity due to the construction of dams on the upstream areas in Vietnam and due to land subsidence from groundwater exploitation has been warned. This reduces the area that is suitable for cultivation of two crops of rice and other crops that are inappropriate to salty soil. Farmers adapt to this phenomenon in the form of rotation of rice-shrimp farming. Thus, the change has partly brought about a positive benefit in terms of environmental and economic aspects.

The efforts to build dikes to block saltwater always has a negative effect. The deltas still need frequent floods to maintain the fertility and structure of farmland. Dykes and barriers whether they are operating well, still retain pollutants, leading to reduced soil quality and soil productivity.

The changes in land policy in Vietnam have made a significant impact on the environment. The forest restoration as being mentioned above has been encouraged by many forms in the land law. Afforestation program participants have access to land. Many legalistic restrictions have reduced (but not eliminate) the act of illegal deforestation. The allocation of land to farmers has promoted them to better manage land. In fact, poor management of the midland and mountainous land is mainly due to the distortion of economic incentives, lead to the circumstance of "everybody’s business is nobody’s business."

Vietnam’s situation in the protection of environment is similar to many countries in the world. Promoting environmental protection-oriented activities requires worthy incentives and institutional preparation to push people to change their negative behavior.

The preparation of institutions is an important issue. The Land Law and legal regulations have to prevent the abuse, misuse of pesticides and exploitation of groundwater. To ensure compliance with the law, it is needed to have effective, transparent monitoring systems fair administration, along with penalties to deter polluters.

So how do the current law and land policies affect the land use dynamics in Vietnam? There are three issues emerging: keeping rice land forever; rural poverty exacerbating by compensation in land acquisition process; and short-term agricultural land allocation.

When people have too few resources to generate the necessary income for them, poverty is for sure. While growing rice makes people poor, they can absolutely increase income if they are allowed to switch to fruit crops, livestock, aquatic products, vegetables and flowers. Abuse of groundwater and polluting rivers, ponds and lakes are forms of indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources.

When the common resource is not strictly controlled, farmers have no reason to preserve them. This is the truth in some cases; people expect their land to be revoked. The allocation of short-term agricultural land (20 years from November 1993) makes the reduction of the desire to invest more in production than some operations to quickly recovery capital in the short term.

Four other policies related to land create other negative effects. Reducing the cost of irrigation has led to the inefficient use of water and the overload of the irrigation system. Because of the discharge of wastewater from industrial and agro-processing zones into the water systems, contaminated water cannot be used for cultivation. Chemicals and antibiotics used in aquaculture often poison rice and fruit growing areas. Pesticide and fertilizer flow to the downstream areas, causing serious effects on health and creating conditions for moss, algae growth, interfering the flow and the survival of the plants that have the function of cleaning and filtering water.

Although there have been a lot of encouragement, management, monitoring of the environment has still played a key role in dealing with acts of environmental vandalism. Vietnam has had a legal framework for the environment, but the environment is still being undermined in many places, and it is barely controlled because the stage of monitoring and dealing violations is weak.

A recent report by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has shown that less than 40 percent of the country's industrial parks have waste treatment systems that meet standards of environmental management. This pollution in turn generates other toxics as being mentioned above.

Along with strengthening monitoring, reduction of poverty is crucial for environmental protection and management of environmental resources. The poor have little choice but to take advantage of short-term opportunities (including vandalism resources) to ensure their livelihood. Preserving resources for the future generations is not reasonable behavior for them. So, to continue the eradication of poverty, eradicating poverty is the most effective solution for Vietnam to handle the environmental issues.

Ho Dang Hoa, Le Thi Quynh Tram, Pham Duy Nghia and Malcolm F. McPherson
Vietnam; Land Law; land management; environment; farmers