Strengthening environmental governance in Vietnam: a case study of community response to pollution of the Thi Vai River / Xuan Sang Vo = การเสริมความเข้มแข็งแก่ธรรมาภิบาลด้านสิ่งแวดล้อมในเวียดนาม: ศึกษากรณีปฏิกิริยาตอบสนองของชุมชนต่อมลภาวะในแม่น้ำทิวาย / ซาง ซวน โว
Vedan Vietnam, a fully-owned Taiwanese enterprise, polluted the Thi Vai River in Southern Vietnam from 1994 to 2008, and had caused negative impacts to the health and livelihoods of thousands of river-side local farmers in Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Dong Nai provinces, and Ho Chi Minh City. In response to the problems caused by river pollution, between 1994 to 2011 local communities have adopted a variety of different strategies, cooperating with state and non-state actors, to empower themselves to strengthen local environmental governance and to stop the pollution. This study investigates the emergence of the concept of environmental governance in Vietnam using the Thi Vai River as a case study. The study applies Resource Mobilization Theory to evaluate the communities’ ability to organize themselves to mobilize outside resources and utilize political opportunities between 1994 and 2011 to protect their livelihoods and health. To understand how actors interacted together over the timeline of the river pollution, residents of Long Tho commune, Dong Nai province and Thanh An commune, Ho Chi Minh City were interviewed, together with non-state actors including the media, lawyers, Consumers Protection Associations, and distributors, and governmental authorities at the commune, district and provincial level in Dong Nai Province and Ho Chi Minh City. The Thi Vai River case demonstrates a strong policy conflict between prioritizing economic growth versus ensuring environment protection during the period of transition from a plan-and-control economic model to market-based economic model in Vietnam, since 1986. Under this transformation, natural resources have increasingly been utilized or affected by industrial activities that previously had supported agricultural activities. In response, local communities have learned to organize amongst themselves and to network with state and non-state actors that support environmental protection to call for improved accountability, legitimacy and enforcement of Vietnam’s legal framework to enhance environmental governance. This study finds that in the context of improving democracy in Vietnam, communities and non-state actors have gained more space to participate in environmental governance, and their involvement is an important factor that enhances local environmental protection.