Safeguarding Vietnam’s Natural Treasures: The Vital Work of Wildlife and Nature NGOs

Vietnam’s natural wonders have captivated the world for generations, from the mist-covered peaks of the northern highlands to the lush biodiversity of its tropical rainforests. However, the scars of history, particularly the Vietnam War, have left lasting impacts on the country’s flora and fauna, even after almost half a century

Despite the challenges, a beacon of hope shines through the dedicated efforts of wildlife and nature-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities striving to protect Vietnam’s ecological heritage.

In this comprehensive exploration, Mekong Plus delves into the current state of Vietnam’s wildlife, the pivotal role of NGOs, and spotlight initiatives to preserve Vietnam’s natural wildlife for future generations.

 

Legacy of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War, a devastating conflict that lasted from 1955 to 1975, has left a permanent mark on Vietnam’s landscape and biodiversity. Beyond the human toll of millions of casualties and widespread displacement, the environmental repercussions of the war continue to reverberate through the country’s ecosystems.

One of the most enduring legacies of the Vietnam War is the widespread use of herbicides, most notably Agent Orange. Sprayed extensively by the U.S. military to defoliate forests and destroy enemy hiding spots, Agent Orange contained the highly toxic chemical dioxin

According to estimates, approximately 20 million gallons of herbicides, including 13 million gallons of Agent Orange, were sprayed over 6 million acres of land in Vietnam during the war (more than 7% of all its territory).

agent orange vietnam war

Vietnam’s natural environment under the destruction of Agent Orange. Photo by US Army Flight Operations Specialist 4 John Crivello in 1969.

 

This widespread defoliation not only destroyed vegetation but also contaminated soil and water sources. Levels of dioxin have been found to be as much as 365,000 ppt TEQ, more than 365 times the Vietnamese standard for non-agricultural soil and 1460 times the standard for agricultural coil. 

Species that relied on forest habitats experienced significant declines as their habitats were destroyed.

For example, in the Ma Da forest of Dong Nai used to exist rare and economically valuable animal species such as Bos gaurus (gaur), Bos banteng (banteng), Bubalus bubalis (wild buffalo), Cervus unicolor (sambar deer), Panthera tigris (tiger), Panthera pardus (leopard), etc. Along with them, there were snakes, turtles, geckos, etc. However, after 36 years of exposure to toxic Agent Orange/dioxin, these animals no longer appear in this severely affected area. The wildlife of Ma Da forest has lost 18 genera (a 50% reduction) and 24 species (a 56.3% reduction), as well as 2 families (9% reduction).

Moreover, Agent Orange had indirect effects on biodiversity by exacerbating other environmental threats. Deforested areas were more susceptible to soil erosion, leading to habitat degradation and loss of biodiversity

Contamination further compounded the ecological damage, affecting the health and reproductive success of wildlife species. Animals feeding on dioxin-contaminated grass or vegetables such as cows, buffalo, goats, ducks, and chickens can concentrate dioxin in their tissues and pass it down to their offspring

Despite the passage of decades since the end of the Vietnam War, the ecological scars inflicted by the conflict persist. As the country strives to protect and restore its natural heritage, addressing the lingering impacts of the Vietnam War remains a critical priority.

 

Rejuvenating Vietnam’s Environment: Progress Since the War

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the nation embarked on a journey of environmental recovery and conservation, aiming to heal the wounds inflicted by decades of conflict. Despite facing significant challenges from rapid economic development, Vietnam has made notable strides in recent years, signaling a renewed commitment to safeguarding its natural heritage.

 

Environmental Recovery Efforts

Spurred by a growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation, Vietnam has undertaken efforts to rehabilitate damaged landscapes and protect critical habitats initiated by the Viet Nam Conservation Fund (VCF) and supported with major grants from the Netherlands, through the Global Environment Facility.

Through the establishment of national parks, covering approximately 10% of the country’s land area, Vietnam has demonstrated its commitment to reviving its war-scarred landscapes and wildlife. Vietnam is now home to 173 wildlife conservation zones, including 34 national parks, 66 nature reserves, and 18 species and habitat reserves. The total covered area is expected to rise to over 3 million ha by 2030.

Many nature NGOs have joined forces with the local government to recover Vietnam’s nature. For instance, Centre for Marinelife Conservation and Community Development (MCD) is a pioneering wildlife non-profit organization dedicated to marine conservation in Vietnam. With sponsorship from many environment and well-being organizations all over the world including EU, Sida, Australia Aid, etc, MCD works tirelessly to aid the locals in restoring coral reefs, conserving mangrove forests, and empowering coastal communities all over Vietnam.

Their efforts have led to significant achievements, including restoring degraded marine ecosystems, establishing marine protected areas, and promoting sustainable livelihoods among coastal residents. MCD’s work not only safeguards marine biodiversity but also improves the resilience of coastal communities in the face of environmental challenges.

MCD Vietnam Staff

MCD staff working in hand with local fishermen to preserve the coral reef in Bai Dua, Binh Dinh. Source: MCD Vietnam

 

At Mekong Plus, an NGO focusing on the well-being of the environment and local communities in 3 provinces, we are dedicated to promoting tree-planting initiatives by motivating villagers to participate through a system of small bonuses based on the survival rate of planted trees, to foster long-term commitment to tree planting. Our success rate stood impressively at 80%. 

 

Legal Framework and Policies

Vietnam has enacted robust conservation laws and policies to underpin its environmental agenda.

The country has taken significant strides in environmental protection with the introduction of the new Environmental Protection Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2022. 

This law marks a substantial modernization of Vietnam’s environmental legal framework since the first law on environmental protection was established in 1993. They both introduced new taxes and regulations for projects that pose a higher risk to the environment. The new legislation aims to align Vietnam’s environmental regulations with international standards and practices.

Regarding wildlife protection regulations, Vietnam enforces comprehensive frameworks with heavy fines for trafficking and wildlife-related crimes. The Biodiversity Law implemented in 2008 provides a comprehensive framework for the sustainable use and protection of biodiversity, while the revised Law on Environmental Protection introduced in 2020 addresses pollution and resource management. The amendments of the 2015 Penal Code (revised in 2017), which applies to every criminal offence committed within the territory of Vietnam, states that violators of wild-life related crimes may face up to 15 years in prison and fines of up to VND 15 billion (USD 650,000)

By ratifying international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and CITES, Vietnam has aligned itself with global efforts to conserve biodiversity and combat wildlife trafficking.

Between 2015 and 2020, about 73 percent of wildlife trafficking cases were brought to court. The 2015 Penal Code resulted in an increase in average prison sentences for wildlife crime in subsequent years, to 5.29 years in 2018 and 4.49 years in the first half of 2020 compared to just 1.25 years in 2017.

Vietnam’s environmental renaissance since the Vietnam War is a testament to the nation’s resilience and determination to protect its natural heritage. By implementing conservation laws, and promoting sustainable practices, the Vietnamese government and NGOs have made significant progress in safeguarding its nature. Both individuals and organizations are encouraged to give to nature NGOs to sponsor their activities. As the country continues on its path of environmental revivement, sustained efforts will be essential to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come.

 

Vietnam’s big 3 current environmental issues

Animal Extinction: Endangered Species of Vietnam

Vietnam, a country with a rich tapestry of unique and diverse wildlife, is home to an array of species that are not found anywhere else in the world. However, this incredible biodiversity is under threat, with many species facing the risk of extinction due to habitat loss, poaching, and illegal wildlife trade. 

The Annam chorus frog (Microhyla annamensis), the banded eagle ray (Aetomylaeus nichofii), and the iconic black-crested gibbon (Nomascus concolor) are just a few of the species that represent Vietnam’s endangered wildlife. 

The Delacour’s langur (Trachypithecus delacouri), with its distinctive long and bushy tail, is one of the world’s most endangered primates, with only about 300 individuals remaining. 

The great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) and the Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) are also among the species that are struggling for survival in Vietnam’s changing landscapes.

One of the most critical cases is that of the Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), also known as the “Asian Unicorn.” This elusive and rare mammal is a symbol of the biodiversity crisis in Vietnam, with estimates suggesting there are fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild.

Saola

A Saola found in Vietnam. Photo by WWF Vietnam.

Various nature NGOs have taken up the mantle to protect Vietnam’s wildlife. The USAID Biodiversity Conservation Activity, for example, has launched a $1.4 million Species Conservation Fund (SCF) in Vietnam to aid locally-led conservation efforts. 

This initiative aims to strengthen biodiversity conservation through local organizations and research institutions, focusing on conserving priority species of wildlife in the field.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and GreenViet are other notable non-profit wildlife NGOs that have been instrumental in conducting extensive surveys and advocating for the establishment of protected areas, with local people giving their time to help guard the forests. 

Their work in Vietnam’s mountainous areas has uncovered the presence of several highly endangered species, driving efforts to establish a nature reserve or national park to safeguard these species.

Muong La’s forests

A conservationist working in Muong La’s forests taken by FFI reporter Uong Sy Hung.

Meanwhile, Education for Nature – Vietnam (ENV) is tackling the illegal wildlife trade by raising public awareness and taking strategic actions against wildlife crime. Similarly, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife (SVW) focuses on wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and habitat protection, while also engaging communities in conservation efforts.

However, the battle to save Vietnam’s endangered species is far from over. For more information on how you can support these conservation efforts with donations, please visit the websites of the mentioned wildlife NGOs and consider contributing to their noble cause.

 

Global warming: The wrath of the Earth

The intricate web of life in Vietnam’s ecosystems sustains not only its wildlife but also millions of people who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Mekong Delta region, where the flow of the river shapes the destinies of countless communities. Yet, the delicate balance of this ecosystem is under siege from climate change, pollution, and unsustainable development, posing existential threats to agriculture, fisheries, and water resources. 

Climate change has emerged as a formidable adversary, exacerbating the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and storms. 

sea level affecting rice Vietnam

These natural disasters disrupt agricultural cycles, inundate fields, and compromise soil fertility, jeopardizing food security and exacerbating poverty among vulnerable communities. 

Furthermore, rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion encroach upon freshwater sources, rendering them unsuitable for household and cultivating use, thus risking the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen who rely on the Mekong’s bounty.

Intensive agriculture techniques and irrigation provoke soil subsidence, estimated 3 times faster than the rising sea water level. Mekong Plus, among others, propose less aggressive agriculture.

All 13 cities and provinces of the delta are at high risk of flooding due to climate change, particularly 80% for Kiên Giang and Hậu Giang provinces, 40-50% for Bac Lieu and Ca Mau provinces, and 25-30% for Sóc Trăng Province. 

According to the deputy director of the Urban Development Agency Tran Thị Lan Anh, by the end of the 21st century, a third of the Mekong Delta will be submerged under water, the biggest land loss rate in the world.

Tien Giang Drought

People collecting free water from a charity water truck during the drought in Tien Giang, April 5, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam.

 

Unhinged growth: The greed of men

The Mekong Delta grapples with a multifaceted array of environmental challenges, with pollution looming large among them. Rapid industrialization in Vietnam has led to a proliferation of industrial activities, resulting in the heightened discharge of pollutants into the environment. Among these pollutants are heavy metals, industrial chemicals, and untreated wastewater, which find their way into the waterways of the delta, further exacerbating the ecological strain.

A particularly pressing issue is the rampant plastic pollution that plagues Vietnam, earning it the dubious distinction of being the 8th worst country globally in this regard. Annually, an astonishing 28,221 metric tons of plastic waste is discarded, with a mere 27% undergoing recycling.

This surge in plastic consumption, propelled by economic growth and shifting societal behaviors, exacts a heavy toll on the environment. The consequences are dire, as plastic debris inundates rivers, infiltrates oceans, and even infiltrates agricultural fields, imperiling wildlife and disrupting ecosystems.

plastic waste world

Source: VisualCapitalist.com

In addition to plastics, other contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals further compromise water quality and devastate aquatic habitats. The repercussions are far-reaching, posing significant risks to both human health and the biodiversity of the region. Furthermore, the unbridled extraction of sand and gravel for construction projects exacts a toll on the delicate balance of riverine ecosystems, exacerbating erosion and leaving coastal communities vulnerable to the ravages of climate change-induced sea-level rise.

Addressing these challenges demands a concerted effort from various stakeholders, encompassing policymakers, industries, and the broader public. Initiatives aimed at mitigating pollution, promoting sustainable practices, and enhancing environmental stewardship are imperative to safeguarding the fragile ecosystems of the Mekong Delta for generations to come.

 

 

The fight of NGOs & Vietnamese state

Recognizing the symbiotic relationship between nature and society, environmental charity NGOs in Vietnam are working hand in hand with local communities to forge sustainable solutions that benefit both people and the environment. 

One of the key players in this field is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which emphasizes the necessity of climate-smart planning and collaboration among provinces and the central government. Their approach integrates climate change risk information into governmental decision-making, ensuring that policies are supported by effective funding, including private sector contributions.

At Mekong Plus, we focus on environmental sustainability through initiatives like waste treatment, plastic recycling, sustainable agriculture, eco-friendly construction, and tree planting. Our efforts aim to mitigate the impacts of climate change while aiding the socio-economic well-being of local communities.

The Vietnamese government, in collaboration with various nature NGOs, has also been proactive in seeking sustainable development strategies. This includes the adoption of resolutions to develop the Mekong Delta sustainably, in line with efforts to combat climate change.

Their project where they’re working in hand with the World Bank “Mekong Delta Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Project” is contributing significantly. 

An extensive network of scientists aids farmers in finding new nature-based production models that best fit the agroecological and socioeconomic challenges, and scale them up. The majority of the project’s fund of $387 million has been invested into building new infrastructure and upgrading outdated facilities. In the upper floodplains, 61 kilometers of dikes have been rehabilitated and 15 associated sluice gates erected to better manage floodwaters, in particular, to capture flood benefits.

Experts from Vietnam and beyond are continually seeking measures to promote sustainable growth in the country as a whole and in the Mekong Delta specifically. Conferences and collaborative efforts are regularly organized to discuss solutions, share knowledge, and implement strategies that address environmental challenges while ensuring economic development. Sponsorships and funding by donors are well-needed to support these environmental charities.

In essence, the plight of Vietnam’s ecosystems underscores the urgent need for concerted action to reconcile the imperatives of economic development with the imperatives of environmental sustainability. By combining traditional knowledge with modern science, fostering community engagement, and securing international support, Vietnam is paving the way toward a resilient and prosperous delta that can continue to thrive in the face of environmental uncertainties.

 

Conclusion

Vietnam’s natural treasures are under siege, facing unprecedented threats from human activities and environmental degradation. 

Yet, amidst the challenges, there is cause for optimism. The tireless efforts of wildlife and nature NGOs offer a glimmer of hope for the future. By fostering collaboration, innovation, and community empowerment, these organizations are paving the way for a more sustainable and harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world.

Mekong Plus believes in low-cost, high-impact, and sustainable development that empowers the local people to become agents of change. Mekong Plus welcomes donations, sponsorships, volunteers, and partnerships to support its philanthropic journey.

 

Donate now!

 

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