Viet Nam presents Agenda 21 as Development Milestone in Johannesburg

26 Aug 2002

Ha Noi - Viet Nam will present its national Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit, which opened today in Johannesburg, South Africa. This new document reaffirms the commitment of Viet Nam to address sustainable development concerns, first voiced at the Rio Earth Summit a decade ago.

Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, head of the Viet Nam’s delegation, will present the Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development, at the Earth Summit, formally known as the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). UNDP and the Government of Denmark have provided support to Viet Nam’s preparation of this important strategy. Notable is that the Strategy was prepared with wide participation and consultation throughout the country.

The Johannesburg Summit is expected to draw more than 65,000 delegates including world leaders, citizens groups and business representatives. They will address measures to improve people’s lives in a comprehensive manner by ensuring access to clean water, sanitation, electricity and other services to reduce poverty, while preserving the environment.

Viet Nam’s vision, as stated recently by Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, is very clear: to eradicate poverty and lift the people’s living standards, Viet Nam must grow, industrialize and modernize. But he said economic, social and environmental needs should be addressed in an integrated manner to be sustainable in the long term.

“The Viet Nam’s Agenda 21 marks a milestone in the country’s articulation of its development vision”, said Jordan Ryan, Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme in Viet Nam (UNDP). “The strategy clearly identifies development priorities for the coming decade and how to achieve sustainable development by integrating economic growth, poverty reduction and environmental protection.”

Over the past 15 years, with the Doi moi or renovation process – focusing on expanding people’s choices and reducing human poverty - Viet Nam has remarkably improved the well-being of its people. As noted by the Viet Nam's first National Human Development Report, the most impressive achievement is the fall in poverty rate from well over 70% in the mid-1980s to some 32% in recent years - one of the sharpest declines of any developing country on record. The country's human development index has also continued to steadily rise.

However, the Viet Nam’s current development pattern is not sustainable and new development and environmental challenges have emerged. Despite growth rates averaging 7.5 percent, there’s a widening gap between rich and poor, urban and rural people. Increases in population and urbanisation are putting more pressure on the ability to protect the environment. Half the native forests have already been lost. There are 700 species on the endangered list. Pollution levels regularly top acceptable limits, and dust alone in urban areas is at least double maximum standards.

“The real challenge of sustainable development is to help countries secure economic growth with social equity. We need to integrate social and environmental concerns with the drive for faster economic growth. This will be the key to solve the twin problems of poverty and environmental degradation,” said Jordan Ryan, UNDP Resident Representative.

With fast economic growth, the gap between the Viet Nam's haves and have-nots has been widening over the 1990s, according to the National Human Development Report. 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 development is to truly improve 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.

With 70% of its population earning their living by utilising the natural resources, Viet Nam needs to take fully into consideration how the environmental, economic and social change will affect their livelihoods. Experts note that if poor, who are most dependent upon the goods and services of the environment - are 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.

Fortunately, recent statistics show that the downward trend in forest destruction has been reversed, thanks to the Government’s Five million Hectares Reforestation Programme. Forest cover increased from 27% in 1990 to 33.2% in 2000. And there are now over 100 areas designated as protected parks.

Since the Rio Summit, sustainable development has gained more popularity in Viet Nam to become the central viewpoint of the country’s leaders as endorsed by the ninth Party Congress and confirmed in the 10 year socio-economic development strategy.

In May 2002, in forming the International Support Group on the Environment made up of Government agencies, NGOs and donors including UNDP and the World Bank, the Government took an important step towards ensuring greater sustainability.

The Vietnamese delegation to WSSD includes Mai Ai Truc, Minister and Pham Khoi Nguyen, Vice-Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Phan Quang Trung, Vice-Minister of Planning and Investment, Nguyen Ngoc Sinh, Director of the National Environmental Agency and Le Quy An, Chairman of an NGO, the Environment and Nature Conservation Association. They will hold talks in Johannesburg with UNDP’s Administrator, Mark Malloch Brown, on Viet Nam’s sustainable development strategy. One topic likely to be discussed is the UNDP Capacity 21 programme which has supported over 75 developing countries and countries in transition in building their capacities to implement Agenda 21.

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