Slow Growth, Slow Disasters, Hope Now
“Slow Growth, Slow Disasters, Hope Now” by Kylie Rebich
Vietnam’s economy has gone through a whirlwind of change in the last thirty years. From a country that was mostly starving, Vietnam has turned into a fast-paced world with lively business in every nook and cranny. This brave new world is about to go through one of its biggest challenges yet as it faces an intangible foe: climate change.
In just thirty years Vietnam has turned its economy around. From the end of the Vietnam/American War (1973) until 1986 Vietnam’s economy was centralized. Everything was owned by the government, and anything produced was sent to the government to be redistributed. This system did not work as planned, and Vietnam was forced to import rice. Today is very different. In 1986 Vietnam established Doi Moi, an economic revolution. It decentralized the economy; today, Vietnam is the number two exporter of rice worldwide and the government only owns 25% of the economy. The transition is miraculous.
Even as Vietnam continues to improve, it must look to the danger of climate change. This is especially true in the Mekong Delta. Around 20% of Vietnam’s income comes from this area, mostly from agriculture. Since this area is so close to sea level (1-2 meters!) it is in great danger from climate change. During the rainy season (May-November) this area is at risk for flood. During the dry season (December-April) salt intrusion threatens many crops. As climate change causes storms to intensify, compounded by the loss of much of Vietnam’s mangrove forests, the effects of storms become more brutal. 65% of the Mekong Delta is agricultural land. Some predictions say that up to 70% of
this region could be flooded due to climate change. Worst case scenario: the majority of Vietnam’s best agricultural land will wind up under water, destroying a major portion of Vietnam’s economy and leaving thousands of families homeless.
As depressing as all of this sounds, there is hope. Many of Vietnam’s universities, including The International University and Can Tho University, are working on ways to mitigate the effects of climate change. These include finding new salt-resistant strains of rice and sustainable agricultural practices.
On the second day of our adventure we had the pleasure of visiting a shrimp farmer in Can Gio. The government pays him to use sustainable shrimping practices in the mangrove forest. He harvests with the cycles of the moon, following the natural migration patterns of the shrimp. He also uses a system that allows the shrimp to flow in and out of the area, but capturing them once it is harvest time. There are also plans to better match harvest time with the changing climate. This would mean planting rice during the rainy season and farming shrimp during the dry season. There are also proposed sustainable farming layouts that would integrate mangrove forest harvest and shrimp farming simultaneously. At the moment farmers resist. It does not provide the best money in the short run. The trick will be to convince the farmers that the benefits will be long term.
Vietnam has a long journey ahead. As a quickly developing country, Vietnam wants to industrialize to create jobs and income. This means more pollution. They want to exploit their resources for domestic use and export, but this zeal could potentially destroy the environment. But already there are people who realize the danger of these practices and are working to find solutions that protect the environment and provide the necessary profits and growth. I have so much hope for Vietnam’s economy. I am curious to see how Vietnam will respond to the coming changes!