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Vietnam pollution threatens health

3rd April 2009

As Vietnam's economy has boomed in recent decades, so too have pollution levels in its major cities, with experts concerned that air pollution could pose a major public health concern.

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"Environmental pollution in Vietnam is a real problem," said Tuong Lai, former dean of Vietnam's Social Science Institute.

"It's not just foreign visitors who have complained about our dust pollution - people in our country are also very dissatisfied with it," he said.

A study conducted by employment consultants ORC Worldwide put economic boomtowns Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi on a list of the 20 worst cities in the world in which to live and work, for environmental reasons.

Air pollution was cited as a key factor for both Ho Chi Minh City, which was the ninth worst place to live, and Hanoi, which was ranked 11th worst.

A 2008 environmental report by the World Bank ranked the two cities as the worst in Vietnam for pollution, while an environmental study by 400 international scientists in the same year said Hanoi and Saigon were the worst-ranked cities for dust pollution in the whole of Asia.

Expert warning

And experts at a Southeast Asia air pollution seminar hosted by the Industrial Institute of Asia warned that air pollution in Vietnam had reached dangerous levels.

In 2007, Vietnam started to publish results of its own surveys, with an Environmental Protection Bureau report officially recognizing in 2007 that dust pollution was a serious problem in Vietnam.

Vietnamese residents of the worst-ranked cities were well aware of the heath effects, and of the effect on tourism revenues.

"The atmosphere in this country is now seriously polluted, yet the government has not found any solutions," one Hanoi resident said.

"The air pollution in Saigon and Hanoi has annoyed not only the people in the country, but also the Vietnamese who come back to Vietnam as visitors," he said.

"It has disappointed so many foreign tourists, too."

Thousands of deaths

Health authorities say that thousands of cases of death or illness have been confirmed as having been caused by atmospheric pollution with carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, benzene, and fine particulates (dust).

In 2007 the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that an average of 16,000 deaths a year in Vietnam are now caused by air pollution, with thousands of people now confirmed to be suffering from pulmonary disease.

Environmental studies blame fuel emissions from public transportation and industrial pollution from factories.

Pressure is now growing on Hanoi from international as well as domestic environment specialists to step up controls on industrial pollution and clarify the responsibilities of the various government agencies involved in environmental protection.

Calls are emerging in domestic media for the government to enforce a switch to cleaner fuels, and to punish or penalise anyone causing environment pollution.

"Pollution greatly affects the health of our people," Tuong Lai said.

"Therefore the government must make multiple efforts to make a healthy living environment for the people who crowd such big cities as Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City] and Hanoi," he added.

Original reporting by RFA's Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

 

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