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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.