Viet Nam on road to sustainable development

Mar 6, 2002

Ha Noi - An international conference on sustainable development was hosted today by the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Denmark. The meeting, "Toward achieving sustainable development", brought together national and international decision-makers and experts to share the international experience and discuss what Viet Nam should do to achieve sustainable development.

The Government of Viet Nam has started formulating its national strategy for achieving sustainable development in the 21st century. The formulation of the strategy is part of Viet Nam's preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2002.

"Sustainable development of Viet Nam has become the central viewpoint of the Party's leaders and the Government as endorsed by the ninth Party Congress and confirmed in the 10 year socio-economic development strategy", affirmed Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem. "Our vision is very clear: to eradicate poverty and lift the people's living standards, Viet Nam must grow, industrialize and modernize. But economic, social and environmental needs should be addressed in an integrated manner to be sustainable in the long term".

"The real challenge of sustainable development is to help countries secure economic growth with social equity. We need to integrate social and economic concerns with the drive for faster economic growth. This will be the key to reducing poverty and protecting and preserving the environment," said Jordan Ryan, UNDP Resident Representative. "70% of the Viet Nam's population earn their living by utilising the natural resources. That is why it is important to take fully into consideration how the environmental, economic and social change will affect their livelihoods".

"Adoption of concrete actions that will integrate the economic, social, and environmental needs of the nation is extremely important. We believe there will be a high interest at local level for implementing the recommendations of the Viet Nam's Agenda 21", said Mr. Bjarne H. Sørensen, the Danish Ambassador in Ha Noi. According to Mrs. Phan Thu Huong, Director of Department of Science, Education and Environment of MPI, insufficient integration of socio-economic development and environment strategies has resulted in the lack of overall management and monitoring mechanism for sustainable development. "In the future, may be these two strategies should be merged into sustainable development strategy", said Huong.

The Johannesburg Summit follows the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, much groundwork has been done to protect the environment in Viet Nam. A national environmental strategy was completed. A ministry responsible for the environment was created. A national law on environmental protection was passed, and a new National Environmental Action Plan has been agreed.

One decade of tremendous economic growth (an average of 7.4 per cent) has also raised the living standard of the population, especially those living below the poverty line. But new development and environmental challenges have emerged. "Pressure of rapid increase in population, urbanization and labor force, widespread unemployment and widening gap between rich and poor have created barriers to sustainable development" said DPM Pham Gia Khiem.

The gap between the Viet Nam's haves and have-nots has been widening over the 1990s, according to the National Human Development Report. The growing gap between urban and rural areas constitutes the core of the increasing differentiation between rich and poor. In 1999, the richest 20% of the population earned 7.3 times as much as the poorest 20%.

"Maintaining equity is an emerging challenge facing the country" said Ryan. "The benefits of growth must be widely shared if we are to ensure that development improves the well-being of all the Vietnamese people."

Viet Nam is also under the pressure to catch up in economic development with other countries in the region. Like other developing countries, short-term economic gains are frequently made at the expense of long-term natural resources.

"Too often sustainable development is sacrificed for the sake of economic growth. We must better explain how sustainable development can improve the quality of life. And we must do this not by limiting growth, but by managing it much more effectively, through smarter public policy that leads to improved incomes, health, and education" said experts at the conference.

It is the poor who are most dependent upon the goods and services of the environment - they suffer most when natural resources are degraded. Currently, Viet Nam is in a downward spiral in which a lack of environmental awareness, high-cost growth policies, and large gaps in our environmental knowledge are causing ever worse environmental degradation. Some participants warned: "If Viet Nam fails to take the initiative to manage its environment, it is the poor who will be pushed into ever more dire circumstances. They will have no choice but to use the remaining natural resources simply to survive in the short term".

The preparation and implementation of an action plan for sustainable development - called Agenda 21 - receives technical and financial assistance from UNDP and the Kingdom of Denmark.

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