Vietnam's environment is not teetering on the brink, but there are some worrying signs. Vietnam is a poor, densely populated, agricultural country, so humans are competing with native plants and animals over the same limited resources. Deforestation is the most serious problem facing the country today. Since the arrival of human beings many millennia ago, Vietnam has been progressively denuded of forest cover. While 44% of the original forest cover was extant in 1943. By 1983 only 24% was left and in 1995 it was down to 20%. In a positive turnaround, recent reforestation projects by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, including the banning of unprocessed timber exports in 1992, have seen a slight rise in the amount of forest cover.
However, it's bad news for the neighbours , as it simply means the Vietnamese have been sourcing their timber from Laos and Cambodia. The Ministry of Education and Training has made the planting and taking care of trees part of the school curriculum. However, even at this rate, reforestation cannot keep up with forest losses. Each hectare of land stripped of vegetation contributes to a multitude of environmental problems, including the flooding of areas downstream from catchment areas; irrevers?ible soil erosion; the silting up of rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs; the loss of wildlife habitat; and unpredictable climatic changes. This could get worse again before it gets better, as more and more lowland Vietnamese are resettling the mountainous areas of the central highlands and the far north, putting new pressures on land for plantations and farmland. Vietnam has so far suffered little industrial pollution largely because there has been little industry. However, the nation's rapid economic and population growth indicate environmental trouble ahead. The dramatic increase in the number of noisy, smoke-spewing motorbikes in recent years should be taken as a sign of abominations to come
Ecotourism is increasingly on the rise, with trekking and other outdoor activities becoming more and more popular with travelers. The government has set aside tens of thousands of square kilometers of forest land with plans to create around 100 protected areas in the form of national parks and nature reserves. Local ecologists hope that as tropical ecosystems have highly diverse species but low densities of individual species, reserve areas will be large enough to contain viable populations of each species. However, there are development interests that are not particularly amenable to boosting the size of Vietnam's national parks and nature reserves. As in the West, even the best-laid plans can sometimes go awry. Massive infrastructure projects such as new highways are threatening protected areas, as it is cheaper for the government to use park land than compensate villagers for farm land. A case in point is the Ho Chi Minh road, Hwy 15, which cuts through Cuc Phuong National Park. That said, ecotourism will continue to be a growth industry, as more and more international visitors demand environmentally friendly activities. As well as trekking in national parks and mountain areas, cycling is increasingly popular and kayaking has taken off in Halong Bay. However, the fact is that ecotourism remains a much used-and-abused phrase and many of the so-called 'ecotourism' products in Vietnam are more about marketing than the environment.
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