Vietnam suffers from considerable air pollution, with some of its air quality found to be the poorest in South East Asia. A significant part of the country’s air pollution problem is attributable to the meteoric rise in private fuelled transport since the mid-1990s, when the country’s most prominent vehicle was the bicycle. Now a country for whose roads the motorbike has become a symbol, the drastic increase in motorbikes and cars has become particularly evident in Vietnam’s two main cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where heavy traffic congestion aggravates the vehicles’ already polluting effects.
Whilst transport is widely cited as the major contributor to ambient pollution in these cities, other sources of air pollution across Vietnam include construction, thermo-electric power, iron and steel processing, cement factories and mining activities. The pollutants from these combined activities are estimated to cause 44,000 deaths per year across Vietnam. Particulate matter tends to be the main pollutant of concern, found in high concentrations in major cities, congested roads and construction sites.
As the problem of pollution and congested vehicles becomes increasingly evident, Vietnam is striving to enforce positive changes to improve the air. Plans to implement better public transport infrastructure in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are already underway, both with ambitious, multiple-line metro systems currently under construction, and plans to expand bus services, which currently only serve a fraction of the population. Additionally, the Ministry of Transport plan to implement emissions testing for motorbikes by 2018, with those failing the test then undergoing maintenance or facing a fine. Hanoi’s Party Committee have considered banning motorbikes from their downtown area by 2025, but some doubts remain over how feasible this may be. Other areas cited as ripe for improvement nationwide include transitioning to cleaner fuel, and increasing green spaces in cities.