The Saigon Times Daily
To achieve sustainable development as reiterated for long by officials, the environment cannot be sacrificed, as it is a vital constituent in realizing that goal. However, given the numerous environment incidents countrywide lately, one may wonder whether authorities are serious in pursuing qualitative rather than quantitative growth.
All surveys have indicated that the environment in Vietnam has been worsening over the years, with the worrying pollution of soil, water and air. A report by the World Economic Forum in 2013 put Vietnam among the ten countries in the world with the worst environment, while studies by Yale and Columbia universities in the U.S. in that same year ranked Vietnam at the 123rd position among 132 countries surveyed.
A report on the national environment in the 2011-2015 period released by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment also admitted that the country’s environment has been degrading over the years. The report states that polluted water resources alone resulted in medical costs of VND400 billion a year, and water pollution also killed around 9,000 people a year. That is not to mention damages caused by other forms of pollution.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has repeatedly stressed that Vietnam shall not exchange the environment for economic growth. In a meeting with leaders from 63 provinces and cities half a year ago, the Government leader urged local authorities to stay on high alert over environmental crimes, saying “pollution is a main cause of social instability.”
Despite such a stance, violations of environment protection rules are still rampant across the country, the latest case being the Vietnam Lee & Man Paper and Pulp factory that was allowed to test-run its production in the Mekong Delta province of Hau Giang weeks ago. Right after its trial production started, local residents voiced stiff objection, accusing the factory of causing severe pollution.
Last Friday, the company’s CEO Chung Wai Fu took the blame, including stinking odor, noise and dust from the factory. Pollution still occurs at Lee & Man though this factory has been put under special supervision since the middle of last year following earlier claims that its facilities were not environmentally friendly.
Central and local agencies have long been making efforts to remedy the consequences of factories polluting the environment. Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung recently has urged authorities to take preventive measures against steel makers, and should close down all steel plants that fail to adhere to environment protection rules.
For long, the key criteria when screening investment projects have been their economic viability. In other words, authorities attend more to economic gains which such projects might bring, the number of jobs which might be created, and the taxes which might be collected, while caring less about the possible detriment to the environment.
There needs to be a radical change now. The environment impact should be placed as the first priority when a project is appraised. Otherwise, the country will have to pay a dear price in the future, and pledges by officials to pursue sustainable growth are just lip service.
The Saigon Times Daily