pollution & bad construction threaten Vietnam's beach gems
Vietnam's beaches are under dire threat from many directions, and sadly, there are few signs that a reversal will arrive before significant more damage is done to beaches across the country.
It is the same, sad situation seen in many developing countries: the people who do the most damage to beaches are often the locals who benefit most from them. Ignorance and greed are the underlying causes, and they are beach killers. But in Vietnam the problem is compounded by the government system, which breeds politically correct officials low on technical knowledge. Many officials are motivated to promote their own careers above caring for the country. Beaches hardly rank at all in official concerns, and even severe problems on the coastline are ignored unless they have critical impact on communities, and those affected shout for help.
That the water on the country's two most famous tourist beaches is dirty and badly polluted might surprise some. But this kind of problem is surprisingly common, and certinly not unique to Vietnam. In nearby Thailand two of the most famous beaches, Pattaya and Patong, also have water that varies from 'maybe' at best, to outright dangerous to human health.
Vietnam, it seems, is not learning from the mistakes of its neighbours. Nearby Thailand has the most successful beach tourism industry in the region, the envy of and role model for countries like Vietnam and Myanmar. But the environmental problems stemming from the huge boom in Thailand's beach visitors are many, and serious. A number of Thai beach resorts have been so thoroughly over-developed that their new, ugly jungles of concrete now overwhelm and degrade their once-beautiful beaches. Both Pattaya and Patong have fallen back onto sex tourism and entertainment to sustain and expand their non-beach economies. But will Vietnam follow this route if it's beaches are equally degraded?
With strong central government and draconian control over land ownership, Vietnam is in a better position to take hands-on control of its tourism development and guide it wisely. But what chance is there of such wisdom emanating from the dark corridors of power in Vietnam? Foreigners in the resort business in Vietnam don't hold many hopes, citing high levels of corruption, and perhaps worse, unpredictable decision-making processes that churn out arbitrary edicts from the unfathomable backrooms of party politics. Communist party policies sometimes appear irrational, and are thus understood to promote hidden interests rather than the national good.
And beaches? There's no evidence that they get any high level consideration at all.