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Environmental Situation in Vietnam

On the situation of soil and water pollution in Vietnam

Thanks to coordinated efforts a positive development in environmental protection has taken place in Vietnam during the past few years. The legal and policy framework has gradually been framed and completed and now supports the environmental protection and socio-economic development in Vietnam more effectively. The awareness of environmental protection of the public and managers has been considerably raised, the levels of environmental pollution, degradation and accidents have been gradually reduced - nature conservation has made a remarkable progress. These achievements have contributed significantly to improving the living standard of people and to ensuring a sustainable development of the country. However, the socio-economic development has put considerable pressure on Vietnam´s environment. Despite the above mentioned achievements the country’s environmental quality continues to degrade in many places, especially in urban areas, coastal zones, river basins and craft villages.

Inland water environment: In general, water quality has remained relatively good in upstream areas while most of the downstream areas are polluted and, in some cases, pollution has reached serious levels. The sources of pollution are industrial and commercial waste water and domestic sewage which, without prior treatment, is discharged directly into water bodies. In many places, the water quality has been highly degraded; parameters such as BOD5, COD and concentrations of NH4, N and P have been found to be by many times higher than the permitted levels. Surface water pollution in rivers, lakes, canals and cities continues to increase. In some areas, especially in south-central Vietnam, the depletion of the water resources goes on.

Coastal water: Pollution from oil, heavy metals and suspended solids has been found to exceed the permitted level in many coastal areas. Still, environmental sanitation on beaches has not been improved which has a negative impact on the development of tourism. Aquaculture in mangrove forest areas and on the sand has developed without due consideration of its adverse environmental impacts on the marine and coastal environments.

Land environment: Land degradation appears to be a prevailing trend throughout the country as a result of erosion, leaching, loss of organic material, droughts, floods, land slides and subsidence, salt intrusion and alumination. Soil degradation has exhausted many areas and even led to desertification in some places. The over- and misuse of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture pollute and degrade many areas nationwide.

Solid waste: Solid waste management in urban and industrial areas has been inefficient and insufficient. Only about 70 per cent of all waste is collected mainly in central urban areas. In many urban and industrial areas, hazardous waste is not separated and it is disposed in landfills along with domestic waste. In most of the cities and industrial zones, landfill sites for solid waste lack a correct sanitation or are poorly operated which has serious impacts on public life.


Solid waste deposit near Nha Trang

Water environment: The pollution of surface water and groundwater is becoming increasingly serious, particularly in river basins, small rivers and canals in urban areas.

Surface water pollution

Population growth along with rapid industrialization and urbanization result in a high demand for water while the availability of water resources remains unchanged. This leads to a serious degradation of water resources both in terms of quality and quantity.

Most of the urban sewage is discharged into the environment without prior treatment. In primary statistics, only 4.26 per cent of the whole industrial waste water is treated to meet the environmental standards. Water leaching from waste dumps is another serious source of pollution for surface water and groundwater as the leachates are highly polluted and strongly coloured. Currently, there are only a few waste dumps with operating waste water treatment systems that sufficiently meet the environmental standards. Industrial waste water, domestic sewage and leachates from waste dumps pollute groundwater and are the main reason for groundwater pollution by heavy metals, nitrate and arsenic. There are about 1000 hospitals in the country up to the district level. Every day, hospitals discharge hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of waste water into the environment without treatment or with a treatment that does not meet the environmental standards. Many of the discharged pollutants are extremely hazardous and a serious form of environmental pollution. Many infectious diseases originate from this source and are potentially dangerous to local communities unless effective measures are taken to treat the discharged waste.

Approximately 0.5 to 3.5 kg/ha of pesticides are used in agriculture. The residues of pesticides and fertilizers cause eutrophication and water pollution. There are more than 1450 craft villages in Vietnam whose activities also produce a huge volume of waste water and solid waste which are discharged into the environment in an indiscriminate manner. Paper production, livestock slaughtering, weaving and dyeing are examples of activities which take place in craft villages that cause particularly serious levels of water pollution.

    Waste water in a craft village near Nam Dinh

Shrimp farming on sand areas in coastal zones, particularly in the central coastal provinces, causes pollution and facilitates the intrusion of sea water into groundwater

Groundwater pollution

Most of the groundwater in coastal zones has been salinated. The uncontrolled and indiscriminate exploitation of groundwater by households and water plants in coastal areas has led to salinisation of groundwater in many places. In extreme cases, inconsiderate exploitation of groundwater has resulted in a lowering of the groundwater level. This has happened in the Red River and Mekong River deltas. In many places, phosphorus (P-PO4) and arsenic pollution has been recorded. In Hanoi, for example, 71 per cent of wells have phosphorus levels above the limit. The overexploitation of groundwater has also led to a salt intrusion into coastal areas.

Groundwater has also been polluted by the improper burying of infected poultry. According to the Department of Veterinary, by the end of 2004, more than 40 millions of poultry had been disposed throughout Vietnam as a result of the avian influenza epidemic. That are 20 per cent of the total poultry existing in the whole of Vietnam. The risk of groundwater pollution from infected poultry burial sites is very high, particularly during the rainy season.

The natural land area of Vietnam covers 32,931,456 ha. Three quarters of the territory are mountains and midlands rivers, streams and rocky mountains levels without forests occupy 1.3 million ha (4.06 per cent of the natural land area) of the continental territory - 31,2 million ha (94,5per cent of the natural area). With its land area Vietnam ranks in the 58th place in the world, however, due to its large population, the average land area per person is very low totaling to only one sixth of the global average.

Improper use of chemical fertilizers has led to a low effectiveness and pollution. It is estimated that about 50 per cent of nitrogen, 50 per cent of potassium and 80 per cent of phosphate fertilizers remain in the soil leading to land pollution. Acid residues of inorganic fertilizers belonging to the "aluminous group" such as K2SO4, (NH4)2SO4, KCl and superphosphate have made the soil aluminized and exhausted the alkaline cations. This has led to the occurrence of toxic substances like Al3+, Fe3+ and Mn2+ which decrease the chemical activeness of the soil as well as its agricultural productivity. Pesticides are very harmful for all biological creatures and they remain in the soil and water for long periods of time and affect both useful and deleterious biological creatures in land environment. According to studies, the amount of pesticides used in Vietnam is still small, averaging 0.5 - 1.0 kg/ha/year. Pesticide residues have been found in some places. Pollution caused by industrial waste: some surveys show that the concentration of heavy metals in soil near industrial zones has increased in the recent years. In the Phuoc Long industrial cluster zone, the concentration of chromium is 15 times higher than the permitted standards, cadmium is 1.5 to 5 times and arsenic 1.3 times higher.

Sources of land pollution

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the amount of fertilizers used in agriculture increases both in number and varieties. At least 1,420 different types of fertilizers have been introduced to the market. The amount of imported fertilizers, especially urea fertilizers, has also increased. The 1 to 1.4 million tons of fertilizer produced each year in the country meets only one third of the demand. Chemical fertilizers are mainly used for rice, vegetables, long-term industrial trees and fruit trees. In general, the amount of fertilizer used is still low. However, the use of fertilizer exerts still pressure on the agricultural and rural environment in  three ways:

  • The incorrect use of fertilizers is ineffective;
  • There is an imbalanced use of fertilizers with a bias towards nitrogen fertilizers;
  • The quality of fertilizers is currently low.
Additional to the fertilizers officially imported and managed by the Government or produced by domestic industries, many fertilizers are illegally imported or produced in small-scale facilities. Their quality is not guaranteed and may negatively affect the environment.


  Use of pesticides

Repellent pesticides include insecticides, fungicides, raticides and herbicides. Materials for their production and the pesticides themselves are currently imported in large packages and then divided into smaller packages in domestic factories. Since 1997, the total amount of pesticides has been limited to 2,500 end-product equivalent tons per year, compared to 7,500 - 8,000 tons per year in the previous period. Compared to 1990, the total amount of pesticides used has increased by 1.2 to 1.5 times each year, with the majority used for rice.

Measures for prevention of hazards: decree 64

Decision No. 64/2003/QD-TTg shows the determination of the government to gradually relocate “black-listed” industrial establishments out of residential areas. The decision also supports the implementation of the Law on Environmental Protection and other related regulations and policies. According to objectives set out in the decision, 51 establishments which most seriously pollute the environment must be strictly managed by 2005, 388 establishments by 2007 and the remaining 3,856 establishments listed and all new ones by 2012. The main content of Decision No. 64/2003/QD-TTg has been transmitted to each establishment listed. Mechanisms and policies relating to subsidies have been issued and implemented in different forms both at central and local levels. In addition to supportive measures, the inspection and supervision of the implementation of the decision have also been enhanced.

By September 2005, the levels of pollution of 24 out of 51 establishments listed for 2003-2005, were no longer considered to be serious; ten establishments were closed down due to business failure, one had been suspended from further operation by a state management authority, seven had completed their relocation to new sites, and one had changed its production technology and reduced its capacity. Another 14 establishments have been actively implementing projects to treat their pollution and two have not yet applied adequate solutions. Eight of the 388 establishments in the list for managing in the period of 2003-2007 have stopped polluting, 240 have applied measures for treating their pollution, and the remaining 68 have not yet implemented any adequate solutions. Therefore, 104 out of all 439 establishments included in the list for 2003-2007 have stopped polluting, 265 have started implementing necessary measures and the remaining 70 have not yet started treating their pollution. Despite the achievements, the implementation of Decision No. 64/2003/QD-TTg has been slower than expected. There have arisen difficulties during its implementation which need timely solutions. These difficulties are mostly related to issues of awareness, coordination, financial resources, treatment technologies and available land.

Although there have been some positive developments, the level of awareness of environmental protection by the general public and even some management officers and enterprises remained rather low. Many local authorities and enterprises paid insufficient attention to implementing the decision but are waiting for support and subsidies from the central government.

There is still a lack of an effective mechanism for coordinating and defining responsibilities between different levels and sectors in implementing Decision No. 64/2003/QD-TTg, especially for managing establishments belonging to the central agencies which are located in cities and provinces. Central ministries and agencies are responsible for giving instructions on implementing this decision for these establishments while the application of the measures depends on local directions and policies. Financing: Most establishments listed as sources of pollution have insufficient finances to apply thorough treatment measures. This is a common and fundamental difficulty faced by enterprises in implementing Decision No. 64/2003/QD-TTg. A majority of the polluting establishments listed in the decision are not business establishments including waste landfill sites, pesticide stores, and sites with toxic chemicals left by the war. The financial resources for treating these establishments are mostly allocated from the state budget. The Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Ministry of Finance have not yet proposed a specific policy to support the treatment of pollution from these sites.

The current technologies for treating pollution and waste in Vietnam are still rather simple and obsolete. Waste treatment systems require thorough knowledge and a high technology to ensure that they will be cost-effective and operationally efficient and meet Vietnamese environmental standards set for specific sectors and geological areas. One of the difficulties currently faced by industrial establishments in Vietnam is the choice of appropriate technologies for the decontamination of sites that are contaminated by pesticides, technologies for treating pollution from craft villages, technologies for the treatment of waste water from the rubber industry, and technologies for identifying the threshold for decontamination of dioxin residues and the access to them.

Finding land for relocating industries which must be moved out of residential areas is a challenge for many local authorities. It is a requirement that land for relocation must have an adequate infrastructure, and be in accordance with local long-term development plans. However, in most long-term local development plans, the land for relocating industrial establishments is usually not taken into account. Tackling this issue is a long-term problem but in the meantime, the need for land is urgent in many areas, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

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