Saturday, December 13

Environmental Issues in Vietnam: Waste Management

We've spent the past week or so studying environmental issues here, going to various sites to see waste management.  We visited a number of landfills -- as raw and dirty as you can imagine.  There's no sorting done, and any recycling is unofficial and inefficient.  Pretty much all of the city's waste, organic and inorganic, gets trucked out to the massive landfills, thrown in, and covered.  The smell is unbelievable, as you can imagine.  The issues there include not only limited space, but also leeching of toxic sludge into the ground water.  

My media group, video, spent four days visiting a non-governmental waste collectors' cooperative in District 6.  Just getting to the site has illustrated how vast and dense this city is -- an hour's drive in rush hour, and you're still in as urban as an environment as downtown.  At the co-op, collectors, mostly middle-aged, and many women, gather all the garbage they've collected from households, and sort it as best they can into organic and inorganic.  Unfortunately, there's just not enough space and time to process all of the material that comes into the sorting center; out of 330 tons each day in District 6, this site receives 60 tons, but has the capacity to sort only 8 tons.  That means 322 tons daily are not sorted at all and end up in the landfill.

Another important part of the work at the sorting center is off-the-clock recycling.  When the workers aren't collecting or sorting rubbish, they're free to pick through it and gather paper, bottles, and tins, which they sell to a middleman who transfers the goods to a recycling company.  The global economic crisis seems to have had a drastic effect on the recycling process; whereas just five months ago, the workers could earn 80,000 dong a day for their work recycling, now they receive only 30,000 dong.  This is income on top of their stable salary, but that is only about 100,000 a day (at 17,000 dong to the dollar).  That means those 80,000 dong were a significant proportion of their income, which has now been drastically reduced.  Nonetheless, the job with the co-op is considered fairly good for those without the education for other employment -- it's stable, and after a couple of years you're guaranteed healthcare.  It's pretty amazing to see how widespread the damage from the economy reaches.  I haven't been home to witness the worst of it, but the consequences are far-reaching and have affected even menial laborers in Ho Chi Minh City.  It also has pretty serious implications for environmental efforts which are too-often considered more expensive than worthwhile.  

Other activities -- lectures with local development workers, consulting agencies, and volunteers; watching movies like An Inconvenient Truth and The Corporation, visiting floating markets and small-scale factories in a river region in the Mekong Delta.  

Unfortunately, we'll also be changing our itinerary.  After the attacks in India, our safety is in question there, so we'll be spending the month in Thailand instead, hopefully working on sustainable agriculture there, too.  It's disappointing not to go to India, but our presence in the rural community we'd planned to visit would be dangerous not just for TBB but for the community, too.  I'm sure we'll have a great program in Thailand, plus the food will be amazing.  

1 comment:

dennisr said...

Your comments on the environmental crisis in Viet Nam is well taken. I'm and American whom is now living in Viet Nam and have see this ever growing problem daily. Such a beautiful country - such a "waste".
A quick comment on Thailand and the waste managment or lack of --

Last year I had made contact at high levels within the 32 provinces of Bangkok. I had offered a viable solution with an array of waste management equipment and had provided a proposal that would show not only the positive consequences of cleaning up their environment, ie. air and water table concerns but all of this fell to deaf ears and corruption. I had visited one site in Nakhorn Phanom which was a -disaster. 100's of "pickers" -- children, the elderly, and the unfortunate. No shoes, no chance for education and no hope for a healthy life. The organic and inorganic waste was trucked into a mile + long fill, and covered. No hope for the water table problem. Hopefully your words will be seen by others and somehow, someday people will get the message.

Dennis P. Raquet