Vietnam’s National Assembly Tuesday amended the country’s environmental protection law to give communities a bigger role in conservation and impose responsibilities on corporations, but critics say monitoring mechanisms in the country are not adequate to enforce it.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Revised Law on Environmental Protection, with 92 percent voting in favor. The draft law to replace the 2014 version was presented to the assembly in May this year.
The new law, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, requires owners of factories to use the best available technology to control pollution and limit environmental impact, and defines residential communities as an essential part of the environment to be protected.
The law states that the communities will have an enhanced role in supervision and feedback to ensure their rights and interests in environmental protection activities.
Additionally, the revision reclassifies certain types of waste as resources if they could be used as raw materials, fuel, or some other key component of another industry’s production process.
Industrial and household solid waste, meanwhile, will be subject to the “polluters pay” principle.
In order to promote the recycle and reuse of waste, the new law revises and adds some new provisions considering waste as a resources — raw materials, fuels and materials for other manufacturing sectors.
The revisions also specify that the government will levy environmental protection taxes and enact preferential policies to encourage manufacturing, distribution and use of ecofriendly products and services.
Prior to voting on the revision, one representative raised the objection that environmental impact assessments were not modified after testimony from environmental experts, scientists and social organizations.
“The environmental impact assessments openly allow and ensure the supervision of communities and independent organizations and the minimization of encroachments on natural resources to protect environment,” said Nguyen Lan Hieu, representing An Giang province in the country’s southwest.
“If this supervision is taken away, we in the future will have to continue to face dire consequences after the natural environment is destroyed by human weakness, ambition and greed,” Nguyen said.
Vietnam is especially vulnerable to floods and storms during the rainy season. Climate change, development and deforestation are making the problem worse.
RFA reported last week that a series of progressively worse storms in October and early November caused flooding and mudslides in the country’s central region, killing hundreds and displacing thousands.
On Nov. 9, environmental & natural resources Minister Tran Hong Ha raised concerns with the assembly, saying that pollution is a major issue in Vietnam, as 60 to 90 percent of wastewater goes untreated directly into the environment.
The 2014 law had provisions pertaining to wastewater management, but these were presented in “an incomplete, inconsistent and impractical manner,” according to Vietnam Law & Legal Forum.
Despite government investments of more than 20 trillion dong (U.S. $863 million) in environmental monitoring stations in the capital Hanoi as well as in nearby Ha Nam and Hoa Binh provinces, the government has found it hard to control the volume of wastewater being discharged into the environment, the minister said.
Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh of the Thailand-based Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) told RFA that the country’s wastewater systems were inadequate.
“In Hanoi, many factories discharge untreated wastewater directly into the To Lich River, while in the south, there are many factories where the collection and treatment of wastewater are a big issue,” she said.
“Wastewater treatment plants in Vietnam do not yet regularly collect direct wastewater through drainage or sewer systems, so we need more synchronization.”
She said that many factories ignore wastewater regulations or treat water below standard and recommended that large-scale enterprises be required to install automatic monitoring stations.
“Vietnam has had policy that set goals in protecting the environment, and has spent a lot of investment capital, but current measures are not yet developed enough to reach and fulfil these goals as expected,” said Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh.
Urban residential areas are also a major contributor to the wastewater problem, according to Dang Hung Vo, former deputy minister of natural resources and environment.
“In urban areas, housing development projects seem not to pay much attention to drainage or sewer systems, instead focusing on their sales figures. The result is that the common sewer system does not have the capacity for the large volume of wastewater that floods through urban areas,” Dang told RFA.
“Improving the urban sewage system is not possible because the country has spent so long not caring about environmental protection,” he said.
In addition to amending the environmental law, replacing the 2014 environmental protection law, article 75 of the 2020 investment law and 37 related bills, the 14th national assembly approved seven bills and 13 resolutions during its 10th session.
Vietnam, a country of 95 million people, has achieved breakneck economic growth since the 1990s, but has largely ignored its environment in the name of progress.
The Washington-based think tank website GlobalSecurity.org describes wastewater treatment as the country’s chief environmental concern. It also blamed urbanization, industrialization and intensive farming for contributing to air, water, and noise pollution.
“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,” it said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.