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AS IT IS - Young Vietnamese Clean Up Environment

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Members of environmental group The Carp Team encourage passing motorbike drivers on Long Bien Bridge not to drop plastic bags, Hanoi, February 12, 2014. (Marianne Brown for VOA News)
Members of environmental group The Carp Team encourage passing motorbike drivers on Long Bien Bridge not to drop plastic bags, Hanoi, February 12, 2014. (Marianne Brown for VOA News)

Vietnam's move from poverty to a fast-growing economy has caused harm to the environment. In the future, young people will be among those worst affected by the pollution. But some young people are taking action to change things.

Long Bien Bridge is one of the most famous structures in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. On a recent day, the footpath along the bridge was lined with people, all wearing similar T-shirts. They call themselves "The Carp Team." Some carried signs with the message, "don't drop nylon bags with the fish."

One of them was 22-year-old Le Thi Lai.

She says it is a tradition for Vietnamese to release three fish seven days before the start of Tet – the Lunar New Year. She says the fish are for the Kitchen God, a spirit that lives in the home of every family. She says they will join the Kitchen God when he returns to report back to the Jade Emperor.

Le Thi Lai says the problem is that many people release both the fish and the plastic bag they came in. This not only pollutes the environment, but can kill the fish. The Carp Team's solution is to lower the fish down to the waterside so they can be released there. The team also collects the plastic waste so it can be reused.

The students are not only active during Tet. Twenty-one-year-old Hoang Hong Vi is another member of The Carp Team.

She says the team supports Earth Hour, a program of the World Wide Fund for Nature. She says they also are making plans for an event in June to raise interest in the issue of water pollution.

Their work is just part of the activism that has grown in recent years because of rising concern over environmental issues. Vietnam's economic growth has led to polluted waterways and extensive loss of wildlife. The country rated 136 out of 178 countries on the 2014 Environmental Performance Index. The index measures what countries are doing to protect the environment and human health from environmental damage. Vietnam was given a rating of 170 for air quality. But its air pollution is not as severe as that in many Chinese cities.

Nguyen Tri Thanh is with the Asia Foundation. He says environmental problems are worsening in Vietnam's big cities, like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. He says a growing number of Vietnamese are becoming concerned about the environment because it affects their lives and their children.

"In Hanoi, you can see a few young people, you know, with banners saying, you know, 'if you stop your [motor] bike for more than 30 seconds, you can just turn it off to save energy and save the environment.' I think they are really concerned about, you know, the way people behave. They really try to, you know, promote the green behavior among people living in big cities right now."

Air pollution is a major concern for families in the big cities. Engines in cars and motorcycles are one of the leading pollution causes in Vietnam. The problem may worsen as traffic increases. Local media say the country now has about 37-million registered motorcycles, up from 32-million in 2008.

Vietnamese officials have recognized the problem. The government plans to tighten pollution controls for automobiles in 2017 and again in 2022.

But Nguyen Tri Thanh says reducing air pollution is not a top goal at this time. He says the government is putting more efforts into fighting water pollution.

"I know some people in the ministry of environment and natural resources. They are working on, you know, some kind of regulation, more stricter regulation on air pollution but it's not coming out yet."

Le Thi Lai from the Carp Team says she thinks protecting the environment should not be the responsibility of one group of people. Pollution affects everyone, she says, so it is everyone's responsibility to do something about it.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

This report was based on a story from reporter Marianne Brown in Hanoi. George Grow wrote this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

Words in This Story

poverty - n. the condition of being poor

environment - n. all surrounding things, conditions and influences that affect life; the natural world of land, sea, air, plants and animals

pollution - n. the release of dangerous or unpleasant substances into the air, soil or water

fish - n. a creature that lives and can breathe in water

What are the main environmental concerns in your country? What do you do in your hometown to help the environment? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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