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Vietnam - Environment

Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate, with humidity averaging 84 percent throughout the year. However, because of differences in latitude and the marked variety of topographical relief, the climate tends to vary considerably from place to place. During the winter or dry season, extending roughly from November to April, the monsoon winds usually blow from the northeast along the China coast and across the Gulf of Tonkin, picking up considerable moisture; consequently the winter season in most parts of the country is dry only by comparison with the rainy or summer season. During the southwesterly summer monsoon, occurring from May to October, the heated air of the Gobi Desert rises, far to the north, inducing moist air to flow inland from the sea and deposit heavy rainfall.

Annual rainfall is substantial in all regions and torrential in some, ranging from 120 centimeters to 300 centimeters. Nearly 90 percent of the precipitation occurs during the summer. The average annual temperature is generally higher in the plains than in the mountains and plateaus. Temperatures range from a low of 5°C in December and January, the coolest months, to more than 37°C in April, the hottest month. Seasonal divisions are more clearly marked in the northern half than in the southern half of the country, where, except in some of the highlands, seasonal temperatures vary only a few degrees, usually in the 21°C-28°C range.

Principal Rivers

A relatively dense network of rivers traverses Vietnam. The principal rivers are as follows: in the north, the Red and Thai Binh; in the center, the Ca, Ma, Han, Thach Han, and Thu Bon; and in the south, the Mekong and Dong Nai.


Vietnam's climate is tropical and monsoonal; humidity averages 84 percent throughout the year. Annual rainfall ranges from 1,200 to 3,000 millimeters, and annual temperatures vary between 5°C and 37°C.

Natural Resources

Vietnam's main natural resources consist of coal, copper, crude oil, gold, iron, manganese, silver, and zinc.

Land Use

In 2003 Vietnam's land use was distributed as follows: 21 percent, arable; 28 percent, forest and woodland; and 51 percent, other.

Environmental Factors

The National Environmental Agency, a branch of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment, is responsible for environmental protection. At the provincial level, the Departments of Science, Technology, and the Environment bear responsibility. Non-governmental organizations, particularly the Institute of Ecological Economics, also play a role. Urbanization, industrialization, and intensive farming are having a negative impact on Vietnam's environment. These factors have led to air pollution, water pollution, and noise pollution, particularly in urban and industrial centers like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The most serious problem is waste treatment. Land use pressures have led to significant environmental problems, including severe deforestation, soil erosion, sedimentation of rivers, flooding in the deltas, declining fish yields, and pollution of the coastal and marine environment. The use of Agent Orange by the U.S. military in the Second Indochina War (1954-75) has had a lingering effect on Vietnam in the form of persistent environmental contamination that has increased the incidence of various diseases and birth defects.

As a result of rapid economic development, population growth, and urbanization, Vietnam faces significant environmental challenges. In 2006, Vietnam's pollution "hot spots" included solid waste, water and air pollution, with water pollution and solid waste treatment being the biggest challenges for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE). According to MONRE, Vietnam's environmental situation is deteriorating due to a lack of Governmental resources to address these issues.

Pollution levels in surface water and ground water are another critical concern of the Government. According to new research by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in Ho Chi Minh City, total organic carbon (TOC) content of groundwater in some places is 31-86mg/l. Biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of some large rivers supplying water to municipal water treatment plants is higher than 5mg/l. Meanwhile, all drinking water treatment plants in Vietnam lack the ability to reduce BOD levels. In order to upgrade the current treatment process in Ho Chi Minh City alone, the Government must invest $133 million per year for the five years 2004-2009, which represents one percent of the city's GDP.

Drainage and sewage problems also represent a growing concern. Vietnam's rapid urbanization and industrialization over the last ten years have placed huge demands on its outdated sewage systems, much of which were constructed in the 19th century. Most drainage systems are for combined usage, mixing rainwater runoff with untreated domestic wastewater. At present, except for Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho and Danang, which have projects underway to collect domestic wastewater for treatment, none of the cities or provinces within the country has a centralized wastewater treatment plant.

Except for solid waste from hospitals that is collected and burned in a controlled environment, most industrial waste is still disposed of together with domestic waste without proper treatment. Currently, there is no industrial waste management and control system in place in Vietnam. Contamination from pesticides and agricultural chemical runoff is growing at an alarming rate.

Climate Change

Vietnam’s government is banking on agricultural reforms in its main rice producing region to meet the challenges posed by climate change and disrupted water flow on the Mekong River. The reforms aim to produce higher quality climate-adapted rice, and boost alternative crops to ensure sustainability in the Mekong Delta, home to 18 million of Vietnam’s 94 million people. The region, which produces more than half of Vietnam’s rice and feeds over 145 million people in Asia, covers 13 provinces in Vietnam’s south where the river flows into the South China Sea.

Heightened concerns over the Delta’s future followed an extreme drought in 2016 that resulted in sharply higher salinity levels intruding into the delta. Rice production fell 1.1 million tons according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Climate change’s impact is evident due to more extreme weather. Climate change, sea level rise in particular, but also increasing frequency of storms has implications for the Delta. One of the big concerns is the amount of salt water and the distance the salt water moves up various Mekong tributaries into the delta, which again threatens the viability of rice farming.

Key issues the Delta faces include rising salt and fresh water levels, higher temperatures, rising greenhouse gases and a higher population. The region also faces the prospect of lower rainfall, reduced numbers of farm laborers and reduced valuable land. Over the last 30 years, Vietnamese farmers have been adapting to changing environmental conditions by diversifying and modifying their production systems and water management. But recent and forecasted agro-hydrological changes threaten the viability of these farming and social systems and, subsequently, food security within Southeast Asia. The main constraints to farmers' ability to adapt to the new hydrological regime are availability of suitable cultivars, soil nutrient management options, insufficient knowledge of potential harm from acid sulphate soil inundation, and planning tools.

Australia’s Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is assisting Vietnam to improve rice production inefficiencies. Vietnam’s strategy is to raise farm incomes and boost rice quality by creating a distinctive Vietnamese rice brand. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Vietnamese government aim to restructure the rice sector from three rice crops a year to two crops, but grow a higher value grain. That means growing other crops when faced by rising salinity that are more adapted to these kind of conditions. And then in areas where it’s really not possible anymore to plant rice – where it is very salty – salinity will be very high in the future they can move to either aquaculture or other crops during the period.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2016 15:37:57 ZULU