Research article
Issue: № 4 (94), 2020


Научная статья

Тыонг Зуи Киен1, *, Нгуен Тхи Лан2

1, 2 Национальной политической академии имени Хо Ши Мина, Ханой, Вьетнам

* Корреспондирующий автор (tuongduykien[at]


Ухудшение состояния окружающей среды  и изменение климата (УСО и ИК) во Вьетнаме происходят быстро и непредсказуемо – Вьетнам входит в пятерку стран, которые наиболее сильно затронула проблема изменения климата. Во Вьетнаме насчитывается 53 этнических меньшинства, проживающих в горных, отдаленных и неблагополучных районах. *Из-за низкого уровня образования и ограниченных ресурсов для реагирования на УСО и ИК, правительственной и международной помощи все еще недостаточно для решения проблемы. Поэтому общины этнических меньшинств во Вьетнаме сталкиваются с существенными угрозами как в экономическом, так и в социальном плане. Реагирование на проблемы УСО и ИК в районах проживания этнических меньшинств требует активного участия как государства, так и общества и мира в целом.

Ключевые слова: ухудшение состояния окружающей среды (УСО); изменение климата (ИК); этнические меньшинства (ЭM); реагирование на ухудшение состояния окружающей среды и изменение климата; обеспечение средств к существованию для этнических меньшинств.


Research article

Tuong Duy Kien1, *, Nguyen Thi Lan2

1, 2 Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, Hanoi, Vietnam

* Corresponding author (tuongduykien[at]


Environmental degradation and climate change (ED and CC in short) are happening fast, strongly and unpredictably in Vietnam, which has been identified as one of the five countries most heavily affected by the current situation. Vietnam is a country with 53 ethnic minorities living in highland, remote and disadvantaged areas. *Due to low education levels, the limited resources for ED and CC response, the Government and international assistance are still inadequate. Therefore, the ethnic minority communities in Vietnam are facing great threats both economically and socially. Responding to ED and CC in ethnic minority areas needs the active participation of the State, the community and the world.

Key words: Environmental degradation (ED); Climate change (CC); Ethnic minorities (EM); Responding to environmental degradation and climate change; ensuring livelihoods of ethnic minorities. 


- CC: Climate change

- EM: Ethnic minorities

- ED: Environmental Degradation

  1. The current situation of environmental degradation and climate change in ethnic minority areas of Vietnam

1.1. Fluctuating changes in temperature and precipitation

Regarding temperature, in the period of 1958-2014, the average temperature at all monitoring stations in Vietnam recorded an increase trend; especially rising rapidly over the past three decades. The average temperature of the whole country during the period of 1985-2014 increased by about 0.42oC. In some localities, the temperature fluctuated in complicated directions [7]. Records of high average temperatures have also been continuously reported over the past five years, which is one of the causes of prolonged hot weather in many areas. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's combined data on average temperature and rainfall change, during the period of 1958-2014, the average temperature increased the most (approximately 1.8-2oC) in mountainous areas in the Northeast and Northwest, North Central Coast, Central Highlands and Southern Vietnam. In these areas, there are provinces of highly ethnic people density such as Dien Bien, Lai Chau (over 80% are ethnic minorities), Cao Bang (95%), Bac Kan (more than 86%) and Ha Giang (approximately 90%), etc.These are also localities that have to witness prolonged extreme, bad and abnormal cold spells. In recent years, the frequency of frost and snow has increased. This phenomenon, previously, was very rare in Vietnam. At the Sapa monitoring station (Lao Cai), the average temperature in January 2018 was only about 9.2oC and the absolute minimum temperature was recorded at 0.5oC [5]. Particularly in the  coldest period 2015-2016, the temperature in the Northern mountainous provinces even fell below -5oC, breaking all the records for cold and freezing temperatures over the previous 30 years.


Table 1 – Changes in rainfall during the period 1958-2014 (%)

Regions/ Seasons Spring Summer Autums Winter Year
Northwest 19,5 -9,1 -40,1 -4,4 -5,8
Northeast 3,6 -7,8 -41,6 10,7 -7,3
Northern Delta 1,0 -14,1 -37,7 -2,9 -12,5
North Central 26,8 1,0 -20,7 12,4 0,1
South Central 37,6 0,6 11,7 65,8 19,8
Highlands 11,5 4,3 10,9 35,3 8,6
South 9,2 14,4 4,7 80,5 6,9

Source: Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (2016). Scenarios of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise for Vietnam, Hanoi: Natural Resources and Vietnam Map Publishing House


Regarding rainfall, during 1958-2014, the average annual rainfall of the whole country tended to increase slightly, but it was very erratic and there was a difference between the South and the North (Table 1). In the North, the average rainfall during this period recorded a marked decrease, especially in the fall, whereas in the South, the average rainfall tended to increase, especially for unseasonal rain, heavy rain during the dry season. Reduced rainfall in the North was the cause of severe drought in many provinces and cities of the North, while increased rainfall was the culprit causing inundation and flood in some provinces of the region. Notably, the localities with the highest average temperature increase were the areas with the highest decrease in rainfall with a decrease of approximately 30%, such as in Bac Kan and Ha Giang. In addition, in recent years, there has been an increase in the frequency of unusual heavy rains of high intensity, causing widespread inundation and especially flash floods, landslides in high mountainous areas in the high Northern mountains.

1.2. Sea level rise and saline intrusion

During the period 1993-2014, according to the observed data at the customs stations, the average sea level tended to increase with an increase of about 3.34mm/year. According to satellite data for the whole coastal area of Vietnam, the average sea level increases by 3.50 ± 0.7mm / year [8]. In particular, the South is the area where sea level rise is recorded at the highest level.

There are many causes of saline intrusion such as the impact of El Nino phenomenon, prolonged severe drought resulted in water shortage in rivers along with increasing exploitation and use of water for agriculture, industry and aquaculture ... Nonetheless, rising sea levels are also one of the factors to accelerate the process of saline intrusion in the Mekong Delta. In particular, salinity in coastal provinces has reached extremely dangerous (over 24g/litre) and saline intrusion has penetrated inland up to approximately 100 km in Long An and Ben Tre provinces [4].

1.3. Increasing and complicated natural disasters

According to the German Watch Organization (2018), Vietnam ranked eighth in the list of the ten "most vulnerable countries to climate change" from 1998-2017 and ranked second in the number of disasters suffered during the same period [11]. With a total of 220 natural disasters in the last twenty years, Vietnam has witnessed many natural disasters, including typhoons, cyclones, tropical depressions, floods, landslides and drought and other similar things. Considering only in the Northern mountainous areas, the risk index of the potential disaster is the biggest, especially in the provinces of Son La, Lai Chau, Lao Cai and Dien Bien and others.

  1. Impact of environmental degradation and climate change on the socio-economic life of ethnic minority communities in Vietnam

In the summary document, assessing the impact of climate change on a number of vulnerable sectors and communities by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (2009), Northern mountainous region and Mekong Delta region are two sensitive areas, facing the most negative effects. Here, rising temperatures, abnormal hot and cold temperatures, storms, floods, droughts, landslides and saltwater intrusion have had a strong impact on the agricultural, livestock and aquaculture sectors of agriculture; climate change and environmental degradation also have significant impacts on the energy, transportation and construction sectors; seriously damage infrastructure and impact public health [8].

2.1. Impact on the economic life of ethnic minorities

2.1.1. Impact on agricultural production of ethnic minority community

Agriculture is arguably the number one important source of livelihood for ethnic minorities. However, due to the relatively simple and outdated production methods, Vietnam's agriculture, in general and in ethnic minority areas in particular, still depends heavily on natural resources and weather climate conditions. Therefore, environmental degradation and climate change are strongly affecting farming and breeding activities of ethnic minorities.

Firstly, ED and CC are the agents that directly destroy crops, disturb food production systems and change farming practices of ethnic minority communities. In addition, abnormal and extreme natural disasters such as drought, flood, severe cold, prolonged cold damage and frost etc also directly destroy cultivated areas, causing damage to rice and crops production, fruit trees and industrial crops of the people.


Table 2 – Impact of extreme weather events on agriculture, forestry and fishery in Vietnam in 2016

23-04-2020 11-35-31

Source: Central Steering Committee on Disaster Prevention (2018). Annual Disaster Report 2016  

Table 3 shows that severe losses due to extreme weather events in crop and livestock production in Vietnam in 2016 have shown that extreme weather this year has caused damage to 60,340 ha of rice and nearly 26,000 ha of crops and 5,700 ha of fruit trees. Most recently, extensive and prolonged heavy rains caused floods, flash floods and landslides in July-August 2018 in the Northern Upland region, causing damage to nearly 1,000 hectares of rice and crops [3].

Secondly, ED and CC are also causes of the decline in cultivated land as well as the quality of productive land. Here, apart from the impacts of floods, flash floods and sea level rise, many ethnic minority communities of Hoa, Cham and Khmer in the Mekong Delta region are at risk of saline intrusion, sink by sea level rise. Specifically, drought and saline intrusion affected over 245,000 hectares of rice areas and nearly 40,000 hectares of fruit trees in 2016 [1].

In the Central Highlands, climate change also accelerates the process of desertification, making the land arid, poor in nutrition, a part of arable land that cannot be cultivated and raised. As of mid-2017, about 282,000 hectares of land in the Central Highlands have been desertified, which is particularly serious in Sa Thay (Kon Tum); in Chu Se and Dak Po (Gia Lai); in Krong Nang, Ea kar (Dak Lak) and in Cu Jut, Dak Glong (Dak Nong) - where ethnic minorities account for 30% to more than 60% of the population [5].

In the Mekong Delta region, the provinces with the most saline intrusion are Soc Trang, Tra Vinh, Kien Giang and Ca Mau, which also have the highest rates of ethnic minorities in the region [6]. According to JICA (2013), the salinity in the dry season and the flood in the rainy season in the Mekong Delta provinces by 2050 could cause losses of VND 3.6-12 trillion. In particular, 30% of rice, vegetables, fruits and crops production may be damaged [9].

Thirdly, ED and CC also cause negative impacts on the livestock sector: Cattle and poultry die from floods or are unable to cope with extreme weather conditions such as prolonged severe, cold and hot weather or due to the spread of animal diseases. Meanwhile, ethnic minorities do not have access to modern veterinary services. They mainly rely on traditional ethnic experiences resulting in disease being uncontrollable early and easily break out. Hoarfrost and frost hit a record in 2016 in the Northern mountainous provinces and the Central Highlands, which killed nearly 100,000 cattle and poultry. The most severely affected provinces were Yen Bai, Cao Bang, Dien Bien and Lang Son. Severe drought and prolonged local heat in Ninh Thuan (South Central Coast) also caused mass deaths of sheep, goats, buffaloes and cows. In early February through early May, 2018, the drought dead cattle amounted to 7% of the total horned cattle.

2.1.2. Impact on forestry activities of ethnic minority communities

Forests and forest land are an important source of livelihood for ethnic minorities because forests are not only related to forestry activities but also play a supporting role in agricultural activities due to their ability to protect water resources, arable land, erosion control, desertification, saline intrusion and limiting natural disasters. However, ED and CC are reducing forest land, destroying biodiversity, changing forest structure and quality, and increasing forest fires. According to the statistics of the Vietnam’s Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control, in 2018, thousands of hectares of forest were burnt. Particularly in the Central Highlands provinces, up to now, only watershed protection forests, the percentage of area degraded slightly accounted for 30.6%; average degradation accounted for 38.6% and severe degradation accounted for 19.8%; only about 11% of the forest area has not been degraded. In addition, reduced rainfall and prolonged dry season also led  to increased deforestation in the Central Highlands region. According to the aggregate data, in the period 2010 - 2015, the forest area in the Central Highlands decreased by 5.8%, equivalent to 312,400 ha; The rate of poor and exhausted forests has increased to nearly 46% of the total forest area of the region [Ministry of Investment and Planning (2017)

2.1.3. Impact on fishery activities of ethnic minority communities

Seafood production also faces many difficulties due to impacts of ED and CC, while this is the main source of life for a part of ethnic minority groups living in river and coastal areas. In 2016 alone, 7,500 hectares of aquaculture areas were damaged by the effects of hoarfrost and frost. In addition, increased saline intrusion in the Mekong Delta has also significantly reduced the area of aquaculture. In 2012 alone, the Mekong Delta region had about 87,900 ha of white shrimp. In particular, the main cause was determined by the abnormal changes of the weather causing the viruses that enable liver and pancreatic syndrome in shrimp to develop. The farming environment is polluted due to wastewater from industrial parks and due to drought, lack of water or due to sea level rise, saline intrusion and other things [12].

2.1.4. Impact on service and tourism activities of ethnic minority communities

In recent years, tourism has become one of the new sources of livelihood of ethnic minority communities in Vietnam. However, tourism development in ethnic minority areas is also facing many difficulties due to the impact of ED and CC. Specifically, prolonged floods and inundation have damaged the transportation system and damaged historical and cultural relics. Drought increases forest fires in the dry season, losing primary forests, reducing biodiversity, causing significant impacts on national parks, reserves, and so on. Some cultural sites of ethnic minority communities in Vietnam have been in danger due to impacts of ED and CC, which can mention the Cham tower heritage of the Cham people in the Central region; Oc Eo archaeological site of Khmer people in An Giang and part of caves in Phong Nha - Ke Bang of Chut and Bru-Van Kieu people in Quang Binh.

2.2. Impact on the social life of ethnic minority communities

2.2.1. Impact on social infrastructure of EM communities

An important feature of infrastructure in ethnic minority communities is low quality. Most houses are temporary or semi-permanent houses; infrastructure for education and health are insufficient and of poor quality. Traffic works including roads, bridges and bridges are also prone to collapse, subsidence and damage due to impacts of ED and CC. Funds for investment in new construction or renovation are often inadequate and are slow compared to demand. The impact of ED and CC on infrastructure in ethnic minority areas is even more difficult.

In Vietnam, the regions with low rates of housing and public facilities are areas with a large number of ethnic minorities, such as the Northern Uplands, the South Central Coast, and the River Delta. This is the place most often affected by extreme climate events brought about by CC and ED. The table below with regard to statistics of current housing status in some ethnic minorities will show this clearly.


Table 3 – Percentage of ethnic minority households in the Northern Uplands with permanent, semi-permanent and temporary houses (2015,%)

No. Ethnic minority Permanent houses Semi-permanent houses Temporary Houses
1 Tày 18,6 68,7 12,7
2 Thái 10 75,7 14,3
3 Mường 24,3 65,4 10,3
4 H’Mông 4,5 81,4 14,1
5 Dao 10,4 74,3 15,3
6 Nùng 13,1 78,7 8,2

Source: Ethnic Committee (2016). Survey results of socio-economic status of 53 ethnic minorities in 2015. Accessed at:


2.2.2. Climate migration trends of ethnic minority communities

ED and CC are one of the "forces" for ethnic minority communities to migrate. Those factors are: Loss of houses and gardens; loss of arable land due to mangrove; due to landslides of river banks, coastlines, crop failure, poor adaptability, difficult livelihoods, many ethnic minority communities in Vietnam have to migrate to cities, to areas with better livelihood conditions to live.

The Mekong Delta is currently and will continue to be a hot spot for this migration trend, even the first warnings of a climate change-related migration crisis in Vietnam have begun to appear. Over the past ten years, more than 1.7 million people in the region have migrated to find new accommodations due to the impacts of climate change. The net migration rate in the region is double the national average, and is particularly high in the localities most vulnerable to climate change such as An Giang, Bac Lieu and Ca Mau. Some projections indicate that if the sea level rises in the area to one meter, more than 7 million people will have to migrate. Housing of more than 14.2 million people and half of the farmland operative will also be submerged [913]. Among the three ethnic minority groups concentrated in this region, the Khmer and the Cham are the two ethnic groups most likely to be at risk of migration due to high poverty rates and very low rates of permanent houses (of the Khmer community at 7.5% and of the Cham at 9.8%).

The concern for migrants who are migrants is that migration not only creates new economic difficulties such as reduced income, job loss and social risks in new settlements, but also may lose the cultural identity of ethnic minorities. In addition, migration is also at risk of triggering conflicts between migrant ethnic communities and indigenous peoples on the issues of controlling related resources. This is the source of many social unrest and conflicts.

2.2.3. Impact on the health of ethnic minorities

Climate change with natural disasters and severe weather patterns are a threat to ethnic minorities who are still poor and backward. Many ethnic minorities want to find medical facilities but are hindered by difficult terrain of forests, mountains, and roads; remote distance from home to hospitals. For example, the distance from the home of the Ha Nhi ethnic community in the Northwestern mountainous region to the medical stations is 7.4 km, to the average hospital is 53.8 km. In addition, travel costs, hospital fees and non-medical drugs that are beyond the ability of the majority of EM households have led to many cases not being treated early and properly.

Natural disasters such as floods, storms, typhoons and landslides have not only increased the number of deaths but also directly affected public health due to water scarcity, water pollution, degration of air quality and sanitary conditions. Changes in temperature, erratic rain and sun, has increased the number of people suffering from diseases with regard to joints, lungs, malaria, dengue fever, and so on. Meanwhile, in ethnic minority areas where people live, hygiene conditions and prevention are still very limited. This is a factor that makes health care and disease prevention of ethnic minority communities more difficult.

2.2.4. Other social impacts

Impacts on poverty: Ethnic minorities are among the poorest and most vulnerable groups in society. ED and CC have been and will continue to exacerbate poverty in these communities because their livelihoods and living conditions are severely affected by ED and CC. In Vietnam, nine of the ten poorest provinces of the whole country are concentrated in mountainous areas, difficult areas, where the majority of ethnic minorities live. The aggregate data show that the average income per capita of people in the populous provinces such as Dien Bien, Lai Chau, and Ha Giang is only half of the national average (General Statistics Office (2018).)

Impacts on inequality: ED and CC have increased access to food and social security services such as health care and education; At the same time, it also increases gender inequality, especially for women and girls in ethnic minority areas. Specifically, the majority of EM women are busier than men, with an average working time of 4 to 5 hours longer than men [13].

Impacts on social stability issues: Although there is no really clear evidence of the impact of environment change and climate change on political stability and social order and safety in Vietnam, in some localities and communities of ethnic minorities, environmental degradation and climate change have led to fuel social tensions. For example, severe drought in Sa Pa in the dry season in recent years has led to conflicts between ethnic minority people in terms of access to domestic water and irrigation water for production. Some ethnic minority communities having to change their jobs to tourism business have faced fierce competition in providing tourism services. The social order and safety have become complicated due to the arrival of a large number of tourists in recent years. Social evils, therefore, are very likely to increasingly arise.

  1. Some solutions to ensure the lives of ethnic minority communities in Vietnam in the face of environmental degradation and climate change

3.1. On the side of the State and local authorities

Firstly, considering supporting ethnic minorities to cope with ED and CC is a common and thorough policy in the national and local Socio-Economic Development Strategy; Integrating the content of coping with ED and CC into programs and socio-economic development plans for ethnic minority communities. However, when implemented, it is necessary to take into account the appropriateness of these programs and plans with indigenous knowledge, cultural practices and resources of each ethnic minority community. This is a matter of principle that needs to be thoroughly understood.

Secondly, the State and local authorities at all levels should implement measures to support ethnic minority communities to diversify their livelihoods, transform and develop their livelihoods in a sustainable manner. Investing in infrastructure, completing transportation system, consolidating the system of social services, facilitating goods trade; tourism development; enhancing the effectiveness of preferential credit policies to encourage ethnic minorities to expand production, change crop structure, and effectively respond to impacts of environmental protection and climate change. To do this well, it is necessary to invest in researching new production plans, converting plant varieties and domestic animals, in order to highly adapt to the harsh climate conditions brought about by environmental degradation and climate change.

Thirdly, in many ethnic minority areas at present, the natural disaster warning system is not timely, inaccurate and has limited ability to prevent it; Ethnic minorities often face many risks and great damages when natural disasters occur. Therefore, building and perfecting the information and communication network in order to promptly and effectively respond to the negative impacts of environmental degradation and climate change is essential. In order to do so, it is necessary to quickly build and perfect the early warning system, using the media to provide accurate and timely information to all residential areas where ethnic minorities live. At the same time, the communication has gradually improved the sense of responsibility of ethnic minorities in preventing and minimizing negative impacts of environmental degradation and climate change.

3.2. On the side of ethnic minority communities

Firstly, ethnic minorities themselves need to raise awareness and responsibility to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. It is necessary to prevent immediately and effectively deforestation; gradually shifting cultivation and nomadic status in some ethnic minority areas; control of production and exploitation of polluting resources; raise people's awareness of the impacts of ED and CC; limiting unsanitary living and rearing practices and cultivation practices of some ethnic minorities such as free grazing of cattle, raising of cattle and poultry under stilt houses; abuse of chemicals in agriculture and husbandry.

Secondly, enhancing the active participation of ethnic minority communities in programs, plans for sustainable socio-economic development; helping ethnic minority communities to abandon outdated and unfriendly environmental production methods, build new friendly environmental production models, apply science and technology, and use indigenous knowledge to realize the programs and plans for economic and social development, effective responses to impacts of environmental degradation and climate change.

Thirdly, building and strengthening organizations on coping with environmental degradation and climate change in ethnic minority communities; elect and use village leaders and prestigious people in the community, help them effectively participate in the decision-making process and organize the implementation of decisions on coping with environment degration and climate change at the local level. At the same time, promoting coordination activities between ethnic minorities in Vietnam with ethnic minorities in other countries in the region and in the world, contributing to sustainable development for each ethnic minority in the relevant localities and nationwide.

Конфликт интересов Не указан Conflict of Interest None declared

Список литературы / References

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  13. Southern Institute of Water Resources Research (2016). Forecast of saline intrusion in estuaries in coastal areas of Mekong Delta and proposing solutions to combat drought, Last Updated January 2016
  14. Vu Hong Anh (2010). Report on the Situation of Gender Inequality in ethnic minority communities.