Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Struggling to Survive

January 1, 2011

Story By Hailey Graf

Photos By Kevin Radley

In Ho Chi Minh City, a place with a population seven times larger than that of the entire state of Montana, I’m amazed by the sheer mass of people that surround me. Every picture I take has at least several people in it, no matter where my lens is facing. Crossing a street is a harrowing adventure. And, the noise here is spectacular. There is a constant cacophony of horns, grinding construction equipment, and people talking. If New York is the city that never sleeps, then this is the city that never even gets tired.

During my stay in Ho Chi Minh City I spent time with students from the International University. When asked what environmental problems they see for Vietnam, many students came up with littering and air pollution. As I write this, sitting in a bus traveling towards Can Tho, I can understand why. These two problems are so visible when you look out at the city. Garbage clogs the waterways and the streets. And the air quality is so bad, I have yet to really see the sun or stars. These problems, though, are really just the tip of the iceberg when considering Vietnam’s environment.

“How can you expect the people of Vietnam to care about climate change when some of them are struggling to find dinner?” a student from the international university of Ho Chi Minh City asked me. I had no answer. And, I’m not sure that I ever will.

In the United States, many people view climate change as a moral issue. We feel that it is our responsibility and our duty to fix the problem. Vietnam’s citizens are much more concerned with simple survival. When I asked a local professor how the Vietnamese felt about climate change, he explained that those affected by it care, but others do not. People living in areas that could get flooded, or farmers who don’t get the water they need, care. Others, not so much. They have other more pressing worries.

I can’t fault them for that either. Before I came to Vietnam, I had a set of opinions about this country. Now, as I witness the struggles they are going through, and as I realize how much of their country could be affected by climate change, I must change my views. It’s hard enough to convince people in the United States to change their light bulbs. How can we expect the citizens of Vietnam to change their lifestyles?

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