Vietnam under high risk of Climate change

May 21, 2008 | By Editor | Reply More

World Bank officials said Tuesday the agency’s new Global Monitoring Report underlines the risks that environmental damage and climate change pose to the gains made by developing countries in recent years, even development success stories such as Vietnam. 

The report, issued Monday and entitled “Millennium Development Goals and the Environment,” singles out Vietnam as both one of the models for successful development by Third World countries and one of the countries that will be most harmed by climate change.

Vietnam, one of the world’s poorest countries 20 years ago, is likely to become a middle-income country by the year 2012, and is on track to achieve all of the Millennium Development Goals it set in 2000. Yet at the same time, it is the developing country most threatened by rising sea levels due to global warming, which threaten to submerge the heavily populated Mekong Delta.

“If the sea level rises ten centimetres over the next ten years, which is not impossible, you would start to see impacts immediately,” said Douglas Graham, who manages conservation projects at the World Bank’s Hanoi office. “An increase in storm surges, for example, as extreme weather events become more common, which many models believe they will.”

The report cites studies last year which found that a one-metre rise in global sea levels, considered moderately likely by early next century, would affect over 10 per cent of Vietnam’s population, GDP, and urban area, making it the most vulnerable developing country in the world in each category.

For the most part, the report concentrates on Vietnam’s development successes, including cutting its poverty rate from 58 per cent in 1993 to 16 per cent in 2006. The country has benefited from trade, investment and economic growth of over 7 per cent per year since 2000.

Meanwhile, unlike many other countries experiencing rapid economic growth, inequality in Vietnam did not increase sharply. The country’s Gini coefficient, a measurement of income inequality, rose from 0.34 to 0.36 between 1993 and 2006, a modest rise in comparison to other developing countries.

That has shown up in a raft of positive statistics. Marjatta Tolvanen, a health expert at UNICEF in Hanoi, said the country had met or was well on its way to meeting its Millennium Development Goals in infant mortality, maternal health, and overall nutrition at the national level, though pockets of inequality remained.

“Stunting, which is low height for age, is still over 30 per cent,” Tolvanen said. That represents a dramatic improvement from the 49 per cent stunting rate of 1995, “but now for the last couple of years the rates have not been decreasing anymore. When they produce the reference numbers from the 1990s, they have halved them, but still you can’t say that it’s acceptable.”

Overall, Vietnam has enjoyed an improvement in living standards that is the envy of many other developing nations, building thriving industries in agriculture, aquaculture, garments, furniture, and more recently manufacturing, semiconductors and electronics. But climate change and rising sea levels pose a threat to Vietnam’s most productive regions, the Mekong Delta in the south and the Red River Delta in the north.

Richard McNally of the environmentalist organization WWF’s Hanoi office is coordinating a study of the environmental and economic impacts of climate change on the Mekong Delta province of Ca Mau, notably increasing salinity, which threatens water for irrigation and human consumption. The study models changes to 2020 and 2050 based on different sea-level models developed by the International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

“The study highlights the fact that current water management systems are unable to deal with the impacts of climate change,” McNally said. He said there could be “major impacts of salinization on the population.”

Another issue of concern is the disappearance of most of Vietnam’s mangrove forests, which have been cleared for land to use in agriculture and aquaculture. Clearing of mangrove forests has been cited as a major factor in the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Nargis in Myanmar in early May, as the forests would normally have provided a partial barrier against storm surges.

Vietnamese officials said they were aware of the threat of climate change and were taking measures to address it.

“Vietnam is one of the countries hardest hit by global climate change,” said Tran Thuc, Director of Vietnam’s Institute of Hydrometeorology. “Climate change definitely causes stronger storms and floods.”

Thuc said a national plan to minimize the impact of climate change will be submitted to the National Assembly in October.

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Category: Climate Change

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