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Vietnam steels for fight against pollution in 2020

Various environmental incidents in 2019 have forced Vietnam’s people and Government to face a reckoning.

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Waste piles up on Hanoi’s Lo Duc Street. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Tung

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha said air pollution, especially in Hanoi and HCM, had constantly worsened, although some measures had been taken to ease the situation.

Since September 2019, air quality in Hanoi has drastically dropped with air quality index (AQI) reaching very unhealthy levels of above 200 and hazardous levels of above 300.

Independent tracking systems of PAM Air and AirVisual have reported air pollution spreading across the northern region, mostly in Hai Phong, Quang Ninh and Thai Nguyen where coal-fired power stations are operated.

The warehouse fire at Rang Dong Company in Hanoi’s Thanh Xuan District on August 28, 2019 leaked up to 27.2 kg of mercury into the environment, posing direct threats to human health and environment. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) asked local authorities to inspect all facilities using toxic and dangerous chemicals located in urban areas and move such facilities from the inner city.

Deputy minister Vo Tuan Nhan said Vietnam was facing enormous challenges including alarming plastic pollution. Each Vietnamese family uses an average five to seven plastic bags per day, contributing to millions of used plastic bags discharged into the environment daily. The huge consumption of single-use plastic utensils puts Vietnam in 17th place in the world’s most plastic polluted countries.

Solid waste is being generated at breakneck speed. Data from Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA) reveals that cities dump some 38,000 tonnes of solid waste per day, while the number at rural areas is 32,000 tonnes, and most of it is not classified.

Hanoi and HCM City are choked in plastic with about 80 tonnes of plastic waste discharged daily. Meanwhile, most waste is buried and the percentage of solid waste being is recycled low.

The rising number of vehicles worsens the situation, Ha said.

Hanoi, for example, has about 5.8 million motorbikes and hundreds of thousands of cars.

Vietnam’s two economic engines – Hanoi and HCM City – are being put under tremendous pressure of urban development. HCM City is surrounded by nearly 1,000 factories in outlying districts and neigbouring provinces while Hanoi hosts some 1,000 different construction sites and expects to see more in 2020.

To deal with air pollution, MoNRE asked ministries, local authorities and agencies to foster air quality monitoring in urban areas for accurate evaluation and prompt warnings. Street dust cleaning and traffic separation are short-term solutions to reduce air pollution.

In 2020, MoNRE will work with the Ministry of Construction to compose new regulations on environmental protection for construction sites and work on energy transition. Hanoi plans to ban coal-burning briquettes by 2021 and tighten management over crop burning in rural districts.

On waste issues, the Government is working with embassies and global funds to help Vietnam establish an ocean waste response centre.

Tax for plastic manufactures has been raised to the highest level of VND50,000 (US$2.15). However, the incentive cannot reduce the consumption of plastic goods if the Government is unable to impose tax on customers.

MoNRE plans to issue policies and mechanisms encouraging the reuse, reduction, and recycling of solid waste, develop and implement waste treatment technology. — VNS

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