The COVID-19 Outbreak in Vietnam
Vietnam is currently undergoing its worst outbreak of COVID-19 with more than 4,000 active cases. The Vietnamese Ministry of Health has already sprung into action and developed a plan to make sure the situation does not get out of control. Despite the pandemic, Vietnam has managed to expand its economy due to its swift action. Here is some information about the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam.

Historical Context

Vietnam, like any country, is no stranger to disease and has always found pride in its epidemic response. In the early 2000s, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Vietnam the first country to become SARS free.

Since 2016, Vietnam’s hospital staffers have had to report notable diseases to a central database within a 24-hour period. The Ministry of Health is using this database to promptly track patterns of contagion within the country. This has been a key instrument in limiting the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam.

Current Statistics

Vietnam remains one of the leading countries in COVID-19 control with 4,809 confirmed cases as of May 20, 2021. As one of the bordering countries of China, Vietnam sprung into action when the pandemic began spreading. The first reports of COVID-19 cases in Vietnam began on January 23. This prompted the government to set up quarantine camps to isolate the patients as well as their close contacts.

Dan Nguyen, a Vietnamese citizen, had to stay in a quarantine camp upon her return to Vietnam. She uploaded her stay to YouTube, which documented Nguyen sharing her quarters with three others. Medical professionals checked their temperatures twice daily and provided everyone with three meals a day.

“It was cleaner than I expected,” Nguyen said. “The only thing that concerned me is that we don’t have the Wi-Fi here. The data is really slow that’s why we don’t have very excellent internet access.”

Vietnam had gone 99 days without any community transmissions, breaking the streak on July 25, 2020. However, the last week of July saw a 30% increase in coronavirus cases, which has kept steady ever since.

Hanoi, Bac Ninh and Vinh Phuc are the current leading cities for COVID-19 outbreaks in Vietnam. In total, 2,077 Vietnamese people have been receiving treatment either for COVID-19 symptoms, COVID-19 exposure or proven infection as of May 20, 2021. There have been 39 confirmed deaths.

How Vietnam is Handling the Pandemic

As mentioned, the Ministry of Health practices isolationism techniques, but one of its goals is to find a balance between concealment and economic productivity. The Ministry has limited non-essential vocations and other community-based activities while allowing essential businesses to continue their work. All businesses must adhere to standard COVID-19 procedures such as mask-wearing and disinfection techniques. Vietnam has encouraged its citizens to continue social distancing and only leave their homes for work, school or medical functions.

In addition, Vietnam has 123 medical facilities with laboratories that can test for COVID-19. The Ministry of Health plans to increase testing for active screening for those with COVID-19 symptoms. These symptoms would include cough/difficulty breathing, fever and respiratory inflammation. This screening process would make those who have a high risk of infection a priority.

The Vietnamese government officially closed its borders to everyone except for public officials and essential workers on March 22, 2020. All foreigners who enter Vietnam must quarantine for a period of 21 days. One can accredit this to an incident in which a carrier of COVID-19 tested positive upon their completion of a 14-day quarantine.

COVID-19’s Impact on Vietnam’s Economy

Reports stated that Vietnam was the top-performing Asian economy of 2020 with an expansion of 2.9%. This is one of the highest in the world. Economists such as Gareth Leather have suggested that the extensive and immediate COVID-19 response aided in preventing an economic recession. Leather reported, “By the end of 2021, we think GDP will be only 1.5% lower than it would have been had the crisis not happened. This is one of the smallest gaps in the region.”

Despite the COVID-19 outbreak in Vietnam, projections have determined that Vietnam will expand its economy by 6.5% in 2021. This is in part because of Doi Moi reforms that took place in the 1980s. This transformed Vietnam from an agriculturally based economy to a foreign direct investment-led manufacturing system that brought the country out of extreme poverty.

In addition, essential businesses have continued to provide high-demand exports of electronics and clothing manufacturing throughout the pandemic. Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of smartphones, an important feature of the COVID-19 pandemic which has increased telecommunication.

Vietnam’s Vaccination Goals

As of May 11, 2021, 892,454 citizens have received vaccinations. This has met 107% of Vietnam’s goal which was to have 917,600 individuals vaccinated. Though officials want at least 70% of Vietnam’s population vaccinated, the distribution of vaccine doses currently remains with medical professionals. Officials plan to purchase 150 million vaccination doses through COVAX. WHO, UNICEF, GAVI and CEPI should be delivering over 3 million vaccines to the country by the end of May 2021.

Looking Ahead

The deliverance of the vaccines provides Vietnam with a sense of hopefulness that the current outbreak will soon be a thing of the past. The country is looking forward to eliminating COVID-19 from its region.

– Camdyn Knox
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in the Fashion IndustryFashion as a feminist movement is a powerful force to lift women out of poverty. Brands that provide their female garment workers a living wage empower them to lead a dignified life. Fashion consumers advocate for women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes through ethically produced clothing. Consumer brand choices have the power to uplift ethical brands that support labor sustainability and female garment workers experiencing oppression. Considering these facts, poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue.

The Feminist Movement

The feminist movement means supporting women all over the globe. The fashion industry is part of the feminist movement because it is a female-dominated industry. According to Labour Behind the Label, 80% of garment workers worldwide are women. They produce the t-shirts with feminist quotes found in stores all over the globe. However, in 2019, Oxfam reported that 1% of Vietnamese garment workers and 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers earned a living wage. In 2019, the Spice Girls’ #IWannaBeASpiceGirl t-shirts sold for Comic Relief’s “gender justice” campaign were made by underpaid female Bangladeshi garment workers. These workers earned 35p an hour during 54-hour workweeks amounting to 8,800 takas — well below the living wage estimate of 16,000 takas. Furthermore, the workers were exposed to harassment and abuse. The business practices of fast fashion brands highlight the imbalance between the feminist movement, consumer actions and the grim reality of garment workers.

The Feminist Movement and Fast Fashion

Fashion brands are a powerful force in ending cycles of poverty. But, fast fashion prioritizes the fast production of cheap clothing made by overworked and underpaid garment workers. According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, it is typical for a garment worker to work 96-hour workweeks for seven days a week, ranging from 10-18 hours a day. On average, the wages paid are two to five times less than what is needed for a worker and her family to live above the poverty line. The Juniper Research study predicts that online shopping fueled by COVID-19 will increase fashion sales to $4.4 trillion by 2025. Top fashion CEOs earn in four days what garment workers spend their whole life trying to make. The unfortunate truth is that fast fashion has made the richest men in the world at the expense of the most vulnerable women.

Poverty in the Fashion Industry

In 2017, the Deloitte Access Economics report for Oxfam Australia reported that paying garment workers a living wage would only increase the retail price of clothing by 1%. In other words, a living wage and fair working conditions are reasonable consumer expectations. Researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland also reported that increasing the cost of clothing by 20 cents would allow Indian garment workers to earn a living wage. By investing more in clothing production, brands and consumers can support the global development of garment workers. This will allow workers and their families to invest in education, healthcare and their local community.

Ethical Fashion

Garment workers employed at ethical brands are paid a living wage, have safe working conditions and are treated fairly. On the other hand, fast fashion workers face gender discrimination through mandatory pregnancy tests, abuse and sexual harassment. Fashion as a feminist movement has the power to address the main human rights abuse in the industry — the non-payment of a living wage.

Female empowerment is a catalyst for prosperity. The United Nations reports that investing in the education of girls and women helps global transformation. It contributes to economic growth, reduces poverty through increased productivity and improves health outcomes. Studies have shown that providing basic education to girls until adulthood enables them to better manage their family size, provide better care to their family and send their children to school.

However, poverty is an important factor in whether girls and women obtain an education. Without a living wage, poverty-stricken workers cannot afford to send their children to school and the cycle of poverty continues. Education has the power to help improve the lives of women and reduce maternal and child mortality rates. Therefore, education for girls fosters the development and empowerment of women.

Moving Forward

Poverty in the fashion industry is a feminist issue. Brands that invest in the talented and skilled female workforce acknowledge that living wages empower women and their local communities. Garment workers need to be placed at the forefront of the industry to negotiate better pay and working conditions. Being in leadership roles ensures that fashion as a feminist movement represents the most vulnerable around the world. The fashion industry and consumers have the power to help end global poverty, improve access to education and empower women through conscious consumerism.

Giselle Magana
Photo: Flickr

Artificial Intelligence in VietnamVietnam has experienced incredible growth since the 1986 Doi Moi reforms. Through these reforms that prioritized the market, the once struggling Southeast Asian nation became one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. In recent years, Vietnam has explored other ways to build upon this success. The country’s government has invested in artificial intelligence in Vietnam as a tool for development.

Development of Artificial Intelligence in Vietnam

In 1986 the Communist Party of Vietnam passed a set of reforms that shifted its centrally planned economy to a more decentralized one that prioritizes market forces. The reforms had profound consequences for the Vietnamese economy and poverty reduction. In the last three decades, the poverty rates declined from a stunning 70% to just around 6%, while the GDP per capita increased by 2.5 times.

However, in recent years the Vietnamese government has sought ways to build upon this growth through investment and further reforms. One area of interest is AI. Nonetheless, investment in the burgeoning technology has been lackluster until recently. Between 2015 and 2019, Vietnam invested less than a dollar per capita in AI. Meanwhile, Singapore invested $68 per capita in this technology.

However, many private companies have tried to invest and develop AI creating a small community of AI specialists. The country lacked government support, infrastructure, resources and training to develop the industry fully.

National Strategy on R&D and Application of Artificial Intelligence

Lately, the Vietnamese government has shifted its approach from passive support to underwriting the industry’s success. In March of 2021, the then Prime Minister, now President Phuc, laid out a master plan to develop the industry of artificial intelligence in Vietnam. The plan, entitled the ‘National Strategy on R&D and Application of Artificial Intelligence,” lays out Vietnam’s plan to develop AI until 2030.

Among other things, the strategy sets out to develop three national innovative centers on AI, ten Renowned AI Centers in the region, three national centers for big data and high-performance computing and 50 open, linked and connected data sets.

The entire government is being called upon to assist in this development. Fifteen government ministries and the Bank of Vietnam have all been given goals for integrating AI applications. A few examples from the strategy include: The Department of Defense has been asked to develop “intelligentization and modernization of equipment and weapons,” and the Ministry of Trade is tasked with creating “automated in-store purchases and delivery completion.”

Vietnam’s Long Term Strategies

The plan dedicates a certain amount of focus and resources towards AI development and vows to create an AI ecosystem and regulatory structure. The goals of the national strategy are ambitious. The Vietnamese government hopes the national strategy will propel Vietnam to the top four Southeast Asian countries and in the top 50 of the world for the AI industry by 2030. Essentially, the government is planning to make AI an important technology, spanning countless industries and private and government functions.

This support of artificial intelligence in Vietnam has manifested into more than just promises. A couple of months after the announcement to develop AI in the country, Vietnam launched its first artificial intelligence research center at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology. The Hanoi University and the Naver Group from South Korea will jointly run the center. The center will focus on basic research, connecting domestic and international AI operators and creating “made-in-Vietnam” core technologies. Furthermore, as one of the directors at the University, Dr. Ta Hai Tung described the center’s purpose as “…promoting AI applications in various industries and areas to accelerate digital transformation and boost the 4.0 industrial revolution in Vietnam.”

The Importance of AI for a Developing Country

In essence, the impacts the technology will have on the economy, society and everyday life motivate AI development in Vietnam. Overall, the potential application of AI technology is widespread. It spans healthcare, transportation, national security, finance and criminal justice and promises to streamline decision-making and data analysis and integration. AI development brings speed, efficiency, adaptability and expertise as it increases innovation, productivity, efficiency and cuts the cost of everyday business operations. As a result, the firm Price Waterhouse Coopers predicts AI can increase global GDP by $15.7 trillion by 2030.

The benefits of AI are particularly critical for developing countries that require non-traditional and cheaper technologies to streamline its development. For example, a financial institution out of Kenya, M-Shawri, which supplies customers with unsecured loans, utilizes AI to predict applicants’ default probability. In Mexico, the diabetic company, Clinicas de Azucar, utilizes AI to analyze health care data to better support thousands of diabetic customers.

AI development in Vietnam is predicted to be just as impactful. On its current trajectory, artificial technology is expected to contribute 12% to its GDP by 2030. As Tomoya Onishi describes it, “Hanoi wants AI to raise public sector productivity, particularly online public services to reduce processing and waiting times, public servant numbers, and other costs. Using AI to beef up national security is also high on the agenda.”

Artificial Intelligence as the Future

As the world prepares for an AI-driven future, Vietnam is searching to take advantage of the nascent technology to maintain and expand its remarkable growth. More than its rhetoric, the Vietnamese actively support the development of the technology through investment and setting up the necessary regulatory and legal structure. In other words, the government has prioritized artificial intelligence as a tool for development in Vietnam.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Victims of Agent Orange
Countless Vietnamese people fell victim to the Vietnam War, which devastated Vietnam for two decades. Millions not only fell victim to conventional weapons of war, but millions have also suffered from the unconventional methods of that war, namely herbicidal warfare. Decades later, the United States government is working toward rectifying that wrong by assisting those who have suffered from the gas. Primarily, the U.S. is working through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by providing restitution for victims of Agent Orange.

Herbicidal Warfare

The Vietnam War has its roots in post-World War II when Vietnam temporarily split into two separate entities. Communist guerillas controlled the North, while the French Backed Emperor Bao Dai controlled the South. As the conflict between the two grew, the French became further entwined in the conflict, eventually leading the fight. Although a small, largely untrained force, the communist group, led by the charismatic leader Ho Chin Minh, successfully fought the French, winning the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Both sides signed the treaty at the Geneva Conference in 1954 and created an officially split Vietnam with promises of a nationwide election and reunification in 1956.

Although U.S. involvement in Vietnam was initially marginal, the CIA provided training and equipment to the South government, then controlled by Ngo Dinh Diem. Afterward, the U.S.’s involvement quickly escalated. After the torpedoing of two U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin, the United States began bombing campaigns and eventually deployed over 2.7 million soldiers throughout the war.

Agent Orange in the Vietnam War

The war officially lasted from 1955 to 1975, and over the two decades, nearly 3 million Vietnamese died, 2 million of whom were civilians. Although conventional warfare was primarily responsible for these deaths, herbicidal warfare provided its contributions. The United States dropped 20 million gallons of herbicides across the country, subjecting over 4 million Vietnamese to the toxic compounds. Primarily, the U.S. government used Agent Orange, an orange herbicide comprising two different types of herbicides, 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T, containing the poisonous chemical compound dioxin.

Although the U.S. stopped using dioxin in 1971, Agent Orange has had disastrous effects on the Vietnamese population. Everything from multiple forms of cancers, congenital disabilities, soft tissue sarcomas and peripheral neuropathy links to Agent Orange. The effects are widespread. Of the 4.8 million people across Vietnam that have had exposure to the herbicide, 3 million are suffering deadly diseases as a result. Tragically, the herbicide spans generations as many born two generations removed from the conflict suffer from congenital disabilities and health problems directly from Agent Orange. The lifespan of dioxin is complicated, but in human bodies, it can last up to 20 years, while it can last more than 100 years in sediments of bodies of water. It has contaminated soil, water supplies and food.

United States Liability

Although the U.S. government has provided over $197 million in payments to Vietnam veterans, providing restitution to Vietnamese citizens has been more complicated. The U.S. government has yet to apologize or accept responsibility for the after-effects of the herbicide. Even so, for the sake of strong bilateral ties with the U.S., much of the blame has gone to the chemical companies involved in the production of Agent Orange. However, companies insist that the responsibility falls on the U.S. government.

Vietnamese organizations have made multiple attempts to receive financial reparations for the Agent Orange that the U.S. used during the war. In 2004, a Vietnamese group sued over 30 companies involved in the production and manufacturing of Agent Orange; they alleged that the chemical agent’s use constituted a war crime. A Brooklyn district court dismissed the case in 2005.

Restitution in Vietnam

Nevertheless, as Vietnam and the U.S. improve their bilateral relations through USAID, the U.S. has taken on the initiative to help clean up the residual dioxin. In 2019, national security advisor Robert O’Brien announced that over $110 million of the USAID budget would go toward cleaning up the primary site for the storage of Agent Orange during the war, Bien Hoa Airbase Area. The joint project between USAID and Vietnam’s Air Force Air Defense Command will take up to 10 years. USAID is building upon the successful 2018 project with the Vietnamese government to clean up the area around the Da Nang Airport.

More so, it is providing relief for the victims of Agent Orange. The Obama Administration started this with the Trump Administration continuing the program. Afterward, the Biden Administration renewed the program. The U.S. Agent Orange/Dioxin Assistance to Vietnam report from the Congressional Research Service claims that aid for health-related services and assistance began being appropriated to USAID to use in Vietnam in 2009 but has continued with the dedication of a total of $94 million for just health-related services since 2011. Each year, the total has increased, apart from 2011 and 2013 when it dropped by $200,000. The most recent appropriations came in December 2020, dedicating $14.5 million to health-related activities. However, the majority of the appropriations went toward funding medical infrastructure and capacity building.

Looking Forward

More recently, USAID has moved to direct assistance. In April 2019, USAID announced a memorandum of intent to support people with disabilities. Shortly after, USAID set up staff in the country to collect information to understand the problem better. With this knowledge, the organization announced a grant to fund initiatives to improve the quality of life for those dealing with dioxin’s adverse effects. As Xuan Dung Phan describes it, “USAID will work with local NGOs to provide hospital-based/home-based rehabilitation, palliative care, home modifications, training, personal assistance services and assistive products.”

Although the U.S. government has refused to accept responsibility, through USAID, it has provided life-changing service for the millions of Vietnamese dealing with the residual consequences of its Agent Orange spraying during the Vietnam War. Thus, USAID is providing restitution for victims of Agent Orange.

– Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

Laos' Fight Against COVID-19
Laos has been one of the few success stories in containing COVID-19 and mitigating its worst effects. However, a recent spike has caused widespread worry about the government’s ability to maintain low infection rates. Nonetheless, the Vietnamese government has stepped in to provide expert and material support to its neighbor. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it stands as an example to the rest of the world regarding supporting other countries in need.

Laos and COVID-19

Until recently, Laos was a shining example of how to contain the virus successfully. Between Laos’ first reported case on March 24, 2020, and April 18, 2021, the Southeast Asian nation had a total of 58 reported cases and zero deaths. The government achieved incredible numbers by acting swiftly. Almost immediately, Laos officials instituted a nationwide lockdown and provincial lockdowns and developed a rigorous testing system for migrant workers and travelers.

However, the rigorous response came with a significant cost to the economy as tourism and remittance plummeted. According to the World Bank, the expected GDP growth will be its lowest in more than three decades at 0.4%. Moreover, the unemployment rate is a staggering 23% while the public external stock has increased to 65% of GDP. The debt levels had gotten so out of hand, the government had to sign a 25-year concession of its electrical grid to a majority Chinese-owned company.

Nevertheless, the government sacrificed economic growth to save countless lives. The severity of the dichotomy becomes apparent when looking closer at Laos’ healthcare system. For example, the Global Health Security Index ranks Laos 92nd regarding “health capacity in clinics, hospitals, and community care centers.” Moreover, it ranks the country 101st regarding ease of access to healthcare and 116th in “capacity to test and approve new medical countermeasures.” Innovativeness and access are vital to dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Recent Spike of COVID-19 Cases

Although reports have not determined any deaths, the total cases jumped from 60 on April 20, 2021, to 933 just a few weeks later. The incredible jump came as the average cases per day rose to 87.

What makes the situation more worrisome is that Laos has only administered 184,387 COVID-19 vaccines in total. With a population of 7.5 million, only 1.34% of the population has obtained vaccines. The government is administering about 4,424 doses a day. At the current rate, it will take another 325 days before about 10% of the population receives vaccinations.

The spike has its origins in its neighbor Thailand who has struggled to contain the virus. On April 21, 2021, Laos reported 28 cases of COVID-19 infections in its capital. All 28 cases occurred via Thailand. About 26 cases were from residents of Vientiane who had contact with a student carrying the infection from a Thai man. The remaining two cases involved migrant workers who had recently returned from Thailand. 

Vietnam Provides Assistance

In late April 2021, the Vietnamese Minister of Health, Nguyen Than Long announced that the Vietnamese government would donate 200 ventilators, two million masks, 10 tons of ChlorominB and other supplies to aid Laos’ fight against COVID-19 and prevent the outbreak from getting worse. Along with supplies, the government will send experts to help contain the virus. It will also assist Laos officials in setting up a rapid testing system. In total, the Vietnamese government has announced that it will send 35 doctors and experts on May 4 to help with diagnosis, treatment and the construction of field hospitals. 

Vietnamese support comes with demonstrated success in managing the pandemic. Overall, Vietnam has experienced 2,962 infections and 35 deaths. Notably, Vietnam was able to relatively contain the virus without sacrificing its economy. In 2020, its economy grew by 2.9%, and in 2021, expectations have determined that it could reach a growth of 6.6%.

Looking Ahead

Nevertheless, Laos has a long way to go in curbing the recent spike in infections. Preventing an increase in infections from overrunning the healthcare system and turning into a full-blown crisis will require decisive action. With a rudimentary healthcare system that has undergone economic exhaustion, assistance from Vietnam is critical in its struggle against the pandemic. As Vietnam supports Laos’ fight against COVID-19, it provides an important example for other countries helping those struggling in the pandemic.

 – Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr 

women's rights in VietnamWomen in Vietnam form a significant part of the working poor, often subject to dangerous working conditions and earning less income than men. Organizations advocate for women’s rights in Vietnam so that gender quality can be achieved and women can live empowered lives.

The Lives of Women in Vietnam

Although about 79% of women in Vietnam participate in the workforce, the majority of women have informal employment “as migrant domestic workers, homeworkers, street vendors and in the entertainment industry.” Furthermore, men are not expected to do the same unpaid care work as women. Societal standards assign women a lower status in comparison to men. In the labor market, women are often at a disadvantage due to gender inequality. Women and men do not have equal access to education, resources, skills development opportunities or better job prospects.

Oxfam Advocates for Women’s Rights in Vietnam

Oxfam looks to address the gender gap between men and women in Vietnam with its women’s rights program. The program targets impoverished and marginalized women with the aim of empowering them and enabling them to engage in leadership roles and participate in the decision-making that affects them. Oxfam’s strategies include research, advocacy and education. The organization uses “gender-sensitive design and management tools” to conduct research and analyses that illustrate the scope of gender inequality in the country. Oxfam uses its findings to garner support for women’s rights and positively influence the stance of policymakers with regard to women’s rights. Oxfam’s Women Empowerment Mainstreaming, Advocacy and Networking (WEMAN) framework “goes beyond promoting women’s agency to build understanding between men and women and work with mixed groups to look for consensus and collaboration.”

The ACWC

Another initiative addressing gender discrimination in Vietnam is being led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC). The Commission, which had its 21st meeting on December 8, 2020, plans to “fulfill its mandate to achieve protection and empowerment of all women and children in the region.” Speaking to the cause, ACWC chair and Singapore’s ACWC representative for women’s rights, Laura Hwang, says, “Our women and children play indispensable roles in responding to and building back better from the pandemic.”

Hwang explains further that policies, including the ASEAN Recovery Framework for COVID-19, must prioritize the best interests of women and children. The ACWC began in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2010, primarily working to address the trafficking of women and children. The ACWC committed to ensuring that the rights of women and children are fully protected. The focus of the ACWC in Vietnam then extended to women’s involvement in politics, decision-making and democracy. The ACWC also focuses on ensuring quality education for children and ensuring that women have sufficient rights to land and assets in order for women and children to rise out of poverty and progress in life.

The Road Ahead

Deconstructing societal perceptions of women in Vietnam will not happen overnight, but the efforts of organizations seeking to improve women’s rights in Vietnam are already bettering the lives of Vietnamese women. With continued efforts, women’s rights will continue to progress.

Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Updates on SDG Goal 14 in VietnamVietnam is a tropical country in Southeast Asia with a coastline along the South China Sea. The livelihoods of Vietnam’s people and much of its economy depends on oceans for fishing and tourism. It also has a connection to the global economy through shipping lanes. SDG Goal 14: Life Below Water became a top priority for the Vietnamese government in the past few years. Updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam show that the government believes in a multilateral approach to protecting marine life. Achieving SDG Goal 14 would prevent the collapse of one of Vietnam’s largest industries and protect citizens from slipping into poverty.

Overview of SDG Goal 14

SDG Goal 14 calls for the conservation and sustainable use of all marine resources. The U.N. finds that “improved regulations, together with effective monitoring and surveillance, have proven successful in reverting overfished stocks to biologically sustainable levels.” The U.N. also finds that such conservation efforts are low in developing regions. A commitment to SDG Goal 14 is also imperative because, economically speaking, the global value of marine and coastal resources amounts to $3 trillion annually. This equates to an estimated 5% of global GDP. Vietnam’s multilateral approach to implementing marine conservation efforts could have a significant impact on SDG Goal 14.

The U.N. identified several targets for SDG Goal 14 with individual timelines for each. Upcoming deadlines for targets include reducing marine pollution significantly by 2025 and sustainable management of fishing and tourism industries by 2030. SDG Goal 14 indicates that Vietnam successfully prevented overexploitation of ocean fish stocks. However, the U.N. found that major challenges remain for Vietnam in achieving clean ocean waters. The setbacks on ocean cleanliness counteract the progress on marine life protection. Because of this, the U.N. determined in 2019 that Vietnam’s progress on SDG Goal 14 is stagnant. To achieve the 2025 target and make progress on SDG Goal 14 overall, Vietnam must prioritize marine pollution.

Vietnam’s Actions Toward SDG Goal 14

The Vietnamese government identifies plastic litter as a significant cause of marine pollution. This creates a barrier to achieving SDG Goal 14. In 2020, Vietnam developed the National Action Plan for Management of Marine Plastic Litter, which sets ambitious goals to reduce pollution in government-controlled waters. This plan aims to reduce plastic litter in oceans by 50% by 2025 and by 75% by 2030. To do so, the government developed strategies to target the pollution from the source. This includes eliminating single-use plastic in coastal tourist areas and cooperating with international partners to find better ways to manage land waste.

This long-term strategy for combating marine pollution builds upon the progress made from short-term initiatives. For example, Vietnam hosts a national Sea and Islands Week every June since 2009 to motivate citizens to engage in ocean-conserving activities. This inspires local action to stop marine pollution such as beach clean-ups and behavior-changing campaigns to reduce litter.

Partnerships for SDG Goal 14

In addition to national initiatives, Vietnam engages in multilateral strategies to combat marine pollution. Vietnam signed on to the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris as part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The declaration commits Southeast Asian countries to protecting oceans and promoting international cooperation to achieve sustainable management of shared ocean space. Cooperation on the issue is crucial for Southeast Asia as much of the coastlines overlap and are governed by multiple authorities. In line with targets set by the U.N. for SDG Goal 14, the declaration aims to greatly minimize marine pollution by 2025.

To accommodate the goal, ASEAN released the Regional Action Plan for Combating Marine Debris in May 2021. The five-year plan offers countries very specific strategies for reducing marine pollution. Some strategies mirror Vietnam’s national initiatives such as reducing the inputs to marine pollution that originate from land and finding alternatives to plastic. However, ASEAN also developed highly specific guidelines for long-term projects, such as phasing out single-use plastics and improving the measurement and surveillance of marine debris. Partnering with multilateral institutions increases Vietnam’s ability to achieve SDG Goal 14.

Sustaining the Economy

As a coastal nation, Vietnam relies heavily on oceans to sustain its economy and support its population to rise out of poverty. SDG Goal 14 directs developing countries such as Vietnam to conserve marine life and restore clean waters to oceans. The Vietnamese government’s plans of action show its commitment to fully achieving this objective. Overall, the updates on SDG Goal 14 in Vietnam look hopeful. With plans in place, Vietnam is set to make significant progress on SDG Goal 14 in the next few years.

Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr

The North-South Expressway
Vietnam has experienced incredible economic growth since its reforms in 1986. Over three decades, these new economic policies have resulted in an explosion of economic activity and a slash in the rate of poverty. However, Vietnam’s transportation infrastructure is woefully behind many other developed economies. The government responded to this need by creating a nationwide connectivity project, the North-South Expressway.

The Infrastructure Issue

Vietnam has inadequate transportation networks and requires development and investment. Empirically, Vietnam’s 2020 target goal of $27 billion for public investment, mainly dedicated to transportation infrastructure, shows this. The country’s transportation needs have steadily risen since the economic reforms. Road usage in Vietnam has been on an incline with congested streets and car accidents constituting Vietnam’s hidden epidemic. However, transportation investments have lagged behind. An increase in funding is necessary for the country to reap the benefits of efficient transportation.

The North-South Expressway

The North-South Expressway is the solution to this transportation problem. The $17.9 billion project looks to connect all of Vietnam from Lang Son to Ca Mau. The road system will be an expanse of 1,811 kilometers with a toll collection system and a smart traffic system. Travel to important tourism sites, economic zones and other transportation areas will now be feasible with the new expressway. This high-speed travel throughout diverse geographical regions will revitalize the country’s transportation infrastructure. For the first time in Vietnam’s history, the country will be well connected.

Unfortunately, the central government has run into issues with financing the project. Originally, the government split the project into 11 sub-projects, with five being a public-private partnership (PPP). However, only three of the five received financial backing; the remaining two had no investor bids. The government then changed the two unfunded projects to public projects. However, the government’s ability to finance the project on its own is uncertain. The much-needed outside investments have proven hard to obtain. The project itself is attractive but legal ambiguity within the country causes caution and concern in investors. As such, Vietnam’s government has been spurred into implementing new legislation.

Public-Private Partnership Law

The Public-Private Partnership Law (PPPL) aims to fix the legal barriers preventing the execution of The North-South Expressway. The PPPL will be in effect as of January 2021. The law will clarify the process of investing in Vietnam by creating standard form contracts and government guarantees of project fulfillment. The law will also enforce proper foreign currency payment from foreign investors and the use of a risk-sharing mechanism. Essentially, the PPPL elevates and integrates the previously passed laws, decrees and circulars that regulated PPPs into one authoritative law. It will make private and foreign investment in government-sponsored infrastructure projects simpler, less risky and more appealing.

The Light at the End of the Road

Improving transportation networks will have a profound impact on Vietnam. It will increase economic activity through improved connections between consumers and producers and decrease transportation costs. The World Economic Forum estimates a 5% to 25% economic return on every dollar that goes toward infrastructure, such as transportation. More succinctly, developed roads lubricate the flow of goods and people across regions, which increases economic activity.

Additionally, developing transportation networks directly affects society’s most impoverished members. Areas with little economic opportunity would become connected to vital economic centers. As a result, connectivity to social services, such as health care and education, would increase along with economic and social mobility. The economic rewards are well worth the financial investment into transportation infrastructure. The North-South Expressway — with the help of the PPPL — indicates significant poverty reduction for Vietnam in the near future.

Vincenzo Caporale
Photo: Flickr

improving conditions for Vietnam farmersWithin the past years, the Vietnamese agricultural sector has experienced multiple changes and improvements in labor conditions. Considering previous conditions of unsustainable work ethics and disadvantageous labor compensation, many Vietnamese farmers struggled with unstable trade agreements and a lack of farm and production management, leaving workers with uncertainty in their labor. Changes in Vietnam’s federal regulation and farming methodology are expected to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

The New Vietnam Labor Code

To start, the Vietnamese government implemented revisions to the Vietnam Labor Code, which are taking place this year. The policy changes include coverage for laborers without working contracts, which widens the new code’s coverage from 20 million workers to 55 million. New policy additions also include laws against gender discrimination and sexual misconduct, protecting employers and providing equal opportunity in the agricultural sector. Employers now have an option for maternal leave if they choose to and law passages define sexual harassment clearly now for better prevention.

The code protects workers from unfair wage contracts, as it enables employers and laborers to negotiate and collectively set wages and conditions. Workers may also join a workers’ organization of their choice, to ensure protection and fair contracts for those represented. Furthermore, the government now establishes previously absent minimum wage and overtime caps.

New Policies to Improve Conditions for Vietnam Farmers

Along with the new labor code, new measures have taken place to better manage production and trade relations, which have sometimes been caught in scams between export companies and incorrect dealing agreements. There have also been cases of exports violating plant safety regulations, possibly resulting in investigations that halt production processes at farms and packaging facilities. To prevent shortcomings and create accountability, the Vietnamese local authorities are working toward structured management of agricultural production, which tries to monitor traceability for pest control and fertilizer sources better and will improve conditions for Vietnam farmers.

In addition to these new management policies, the Vietnamese agriculture sector is looking for new sustainable ways to reuse farming spaces and incorporate advanced technology. An incentive to implement those is the constant instability of weather conditions, which can result in drought and saltwater intrusion. The Vietnamese state continues to combat these threats with freshwater reservoirs and irrigation systems, yet it still affects many farms. In regions with insufficient rice growth, the Vietnamese Department of Crop Production approved the plan to convert these rice fields into fruit-growing plants or for other agricultural activities that acquire a higher income. However, to combat weather inconsistency and its consequences, rice farms have implemented new technologies such as modern combine harvesters and rice processing gadgets for efficient production.

Solar Panels for Farmers in Need

Other new improvements in Vietnam have been implemented to benefit a broader section of farming communities. The UNEP’s EmPower project is a notable change, working on installing solar panels for animal farms that are burdened with bad access to electricity and financial instability. Struggling families and farmers will receive solar power for free and can use the electricity for ventilation systems and incubation equipment used to heat chicken rearings. This introduction of solar power not only alleviates electricity costs for Vietnamese farmers, but also for indigenous populations that take advantage of this source of energy. Furthermore, the ones affected called this new addition a solution to their needs during the pandemic.

In conclusion, various measures and policy adjustments have taken place in 2021 to improve conditions for Vietnam farmers. The Vietnamese government’s newfound regulation of agriculture and management procedures bring about order and stability to Vietnamese farmers, and the implementation of technologies creates greater productivity in several farming districts. Considering the new changes, Vietnamese farmers newly receive a reliable income and accountability in their labor.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Spices Alleviating Poverty in VietnamAs unexpected heroes, the spices alleviating poverty in Vietnam are everyday seasonings that are saving the Southeast Asian nation. Since 2013, the Vietnamese spice industry has been practicing more sustainable farming and sharing knowledge between agricultural communities, helping to lift more than 80,000 households out of poverty.

The Spice Industry in Vietnam

By improving the spice value chain, the nation’s farmers have seen a 14.5% increase in annual income, improving their standard of living and allowing them the financial freedom to thrive rather than just survive. This is possible due to the increase in global demands for spices including cinnamon, turmeric, star anise, black pepper and cardamom.

With the profitable market that Europe and the U.S. have brought to the Vietnamese spice industry, many expect new regulations for safe production and quality control for the industry. Some spice farmers had to pivot to organic farming to meet these requirements and have since seen a great increase in profits as these Western nations pay higher prices in comparison to China and India.

Regulated Spice Farming

To meet these requirements and appeal to Western markets, farmers follow the guidelines that the Regional BioTrade Project set. Vietnamese farmers now learn how to farm without chemicals like herbicides or preservatives, use special machinery for harvesting and label spices with their correct origins. These practices help to build a sustainability chain to keep the Vietnamese spice industry profitable for the future.

Several organizations have helped the Vietnamese spice industry reach this level of success. The Spice of Life Project, which the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Cordaid funded, has helped thousands of spice farmers in Vietnam by creating the Spice Association to foster relationships between small community farmers and the state. These initiatives also improved irrigation, drying, slicing, processing and packing practices, yielding higher production and quality.

Providing these local farmers with this knowledge is essential to successfully use spices to alleviate poverty in Vietnam. The National Agriculture Extension Center (NAEC) and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) have introduced a National Sustainability Curriculum and Agrochemical Apps to properly train farmers to produce spices for the global market.

The 3 Essential Spices Alleviating Poverty in Vietnam

  • Pepper: Vietnam has exported pepper to more than 100 countries and territories, making up 60% of the world’s exports. In 2018, Vietnam’s booming pepper industry held the international pepper conference called Vietnam Pepper Outlook. This event intended to allow farmers to connect and share knowledge, expand business connections and suggest ideas for the sector’s sustainable development.
  • Cardamom: This spice grows in a shady, cool environment, making it an ideal source of income for villages located at high altitudes. Due to the income that the spice generates, many households in these higher regions, such as the H’Mong people, were able to raise household income above the government-defined poverty line. People can use cardamom for medicinal, aromatic or culinary purposes but the cardamom market had died off until the mid-1980s when demand rose again. Many small farmers have successfully taken advantage of this rise in cardamom demand, pulling low-income households out of poverty. Farmers are working toward sustainable practices to ensure the success of this spice for years to come.
  • Cinnamon: In 2016, the Nam Det commune’s annual income from cinnamon products was 32 billion Vietnam Dong ($1.4 million). In this Vietnamese commune, people have not only left poverty but they have produced enough income to send their children to school, buy refrigerators and other commodities they once thought of as an inaccessible luxury. Since the Vietnamese spice market has stretched to the West, farmers’ lives have improved immensely. The bark of one cinnamon tree brings in about 300,000 to 500,000 Vietnam Dong ($13-21), a far greater price than what cinnamon farmers received only years ago.

A Poverty Reduction Spice Success Story

Exemplifying cinnamon’s potential is Trieu Mui Pham, a 94-year-old cinnamon farmer that saved her poverty-ridden village, Lao Cai, by planting cinnamon seeds. In 1974, she visited Yen Bai, a village that farming cinnamon had successfully revived. Pham decided to plant cinnamon seeds and waited patiently for years until she could harvest. Today, her cinnamon forest has more than 50,000 trees and her community is prosperous, an inspiring example of spices alleviating poverty in Vietnam.

While the spices alleviating poverty in Vietnam are improving people’s standard of living, spice farming has also helped to restore and protect the environment. Vietnam now focuses on farming and crop exports as opposed to felling trees for profit. Spices are lifting people in Vietnam out of poverty while contributing to the global economy.

– Veronica Booth
Photo: Pixabay