Problems and Issues

Viet Nam’s present population is around 80 million, about 87% of which is the majority ‘Kinh‘ group mostly living in low-lying areas, and the remaining 13% in fifty-three different ethnic groups living mainly in mountainous areas.

A population boom after the end of the war allowed Viet Nam’s population to climb rapidly. Increasing population density, pressure on ageing infrastructure and worsening environmental damage prompted a policy of applying disincentives to families with more than two children. Population growth is slowing, but the previous high rate has left a very young population (65% are under 25) with consequent serious strains on the education system and the labour market.

Nearly three-quarters of Vietnam’s population were living in poverty in the mid-1980s. In the early nineties, the government committed itself to a systematic strategy to improve the situation: it has been remarkably successful. The 2003 United Nations 'Human Development Report' records that poverty is now under 29% and dropping rapidly, one of the sharpest declines in any other country on record.

Nevertheless, poverty is still common in rural areas, and increasing urban affluence has stimulated migration from poor rural provinces into the cities adding to the social problems there. Wages for low-skill jobs are minimal and unemployment is high and increasing as the country progressively adapts to the world market economy.

Most of the infrastructure in Vietnam was built during the colonial period, and is now in desperate need of replacement. Some of the rivers and lakes in urban areas are little more than open sewers, and levels of heavy metal and other industrial pollutants are well above safe levels in some areas.

Flora and fauna are not only threatened by pollution and habitat encroachment, but also by poaching and illegal logging, particularly in poor rural areas. National and local authorities are working hard to improve the situation, but the scale of investment required to solve such problems is currently beyond the country’s means.

Many of Vietnam’s hospitals are in antiquated colonial buildings. Equipment is basic, and medical staffs often lack necessary skills and experience. Patients have to pay for treatment and medication – poor people are exempted. However, a new employee medical national insurance scheme has been launched and is proving popular.

The proportion of live births and life expectancy are both rising, but Vietnam faces many health challenges. In particular, HIV/AIDS is increasing, fuelled by a growing drug abuse and unsafe sex. However, the country has scored some remarkable successes, notably being the first country in the world to eradicate an outbreak of SARS in the spring of 2003.

In the past, Vietnam’s Confucian heritage has served the country well. However, some aspects of Confucian behaviour are now putting a brake on progress and, in some cases, causing harm. In the workplace, a strict hierarchy of deference blocks initiative and innovation, and bureaucracy, red tape and low-level corruption abound. In schools, a rigid fact-based curriculum and didactic teaching stifles imagination and curiosity.
In the family, male dominance relegates women to menial tasks, limits their freedom and legitimates risky sexual behaviour by men. On the positive site, Vietnam’s strong Confucian traditions have been a major factor in maintaining political stability during a period of rapid change, and have been a significant curb on some of the more pernicious excesses of globalisation.

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