Finally there is a media focus on the environment
Last month the Ocean Cleanup project secured the required funding for its North Sea prototype test which is the first step in creating an ocean cleanup system.
Spanning 100 metres and deployed 23km off the coast of The Hague for one year, the floating barrier will clean up debris in the sea while being monitored in all weather conditions, including gale-force winds and waves. It is hoped that by 2020 a 100 km-long structure will be deployed between Hawaii and California; within 10 years the barrier is expected to clean up about half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
That such attention is being paid to our seas, the largest trashcan in the world, is positive. But for the time being it’s not going to help Vietnam and other countries in this region. By not having the funds — or at present, the will — to invest or take part in such a project, we will fail to get much benefit.
The problem, however, is not so much financial, but the understanding that we need to keep our country clean. And in Vietnam, without a financial imperative and with the government focusing on what it sees as bigger issues, it is difficult to see how much can be done.
Yet there is hope. Whatever your thoughts about the dead fish debacle at the end of May, one thing it did do was to bring the need to look after the environment into the limelight.
But this is not the first time the environment has become a focus. The inaugural Clean Up Vietnam Day in mid-April saw around 3,000 people getting involved in picking up trash around Ho Chi Minh City. The legacy continues with events like Saigonella teaming up with the Clean Up Vietnam organisers to promote the ideal — keep this country clean.
More recently, Clean Up Hanoi has entered the media eye (see the article on page 18). Driven by Hanoi-based expat, James Kendall, the goal is simple; to get “the government and the people to work together to fix [the litter] problem.”
Recognised by the chairman of Hanoi’s Municipal People’s Committee, and honoured with an official city pin, James has received phenomenal coverage in both local and international press.
As we speak, Leave No Footprint Vietnam (facebook.com/LeaveNoFootprintVN) is garnering attention as Bob and his dog walk 1,700km from Saigon to Hanoi on an epic litter-collecting journey. Picking up litter as he goes, Bob is holding clean-up events at beaches, villages and in towns and cities. The result, he hopes, is to get people who live outside the country’s big cities to understand the need and benefit of keeping their country clean.
It is a result that the likes of Vietnam Sach & Xanh (vietnamsachvaxanh.org) also hope for — for over three years the group has been holding similar events around the country. They have been featured extensively in both print and broadcast media in Vietnam.
All these initiatives are providing media coverage and education that not just tells people to keep Vietnam clean, but explains why it is something they should do.
For someone who’s grown up in a country obsessed with keeping its streets clean — failing to pick up dog poop in the UK results in an on-the-spot £100 (VND3.25 million) fine — it is difficult for me to fathom why people in Vietnam don’t have the same obsession. Do they believe someone will do it for them? Do they just not care? Or do they not see why it’s important?
Having spoken to a number of people about this, I believe it’s a mixture of all three; at present there is little emotional and rational connection between a clean Vietnam and the everyday person who needs to be responsible, at least in part, for keeping it clean.
Fortunately, it seems, this is connection is starting to be made. It will take a generation to get Vietnam to appreciate the benefit of being clean and green. And it will take time before the likes of the Ocean Cleanup project reaches this country. But we’re now starting to see lift-off.