In 2005, Forbes Magazine voted Da Nang beach as one of the six most attractive beaches on the planet. Unfortunately in Vietnam, littering by locals and tourists alike is a major problem that the government of the biggest city in central Vietnam has only now decided to tackle.
When I arrived in Vietnam a couple years ago, still a tourist without any intentions to stay in the land of motorbikes and delicious noodle dishes, I met an engineer on the train and we had a chat. When I told him that my next destination will be Da Nang, his eyes lit up and he told me Da Nang is the cleanest city of Vietnam.
It turned out, he was actively involved in several environmental campaigns, and that he was absolutely right about Da Nang.
When I arrived, it didn’t look too clean, but that was because of this obnoxious typhoon, Haiyan, that devastated the Philippines and struck the center of Vietnam. Haiyan messed up the beaches quite a bit, but during my six-weeks stay, things gradually got fixed and tidied up.
Meanwhile I have seen enough of Vietnam to appreciate the cleanliness of Da Nang. It is truly Vietnam’s most advanced city in terms of garbage management.
Da Nang’s clean up program
In June 2015, Da Nang launched an education and communication program for environment and tourism after pictures of two tourists, cleaning up the beaches, made it into the media. The decision to impose penalties fell on the 15th of July. The focus of Da Nang’s clean up program lies on the major tourist areas Ngu Hanh Son and Son Tra.
Tran Chi Cuong, Da Nang City’s vice director of the Culture, Sports and Tourism Department announced in that context:
“We educate local people in these districts to set a good example of tidiness. First we warn local residents, restaurant owners and tourists and then fine if them if they continue littering.”
The campaign will run until September 30th and attempts to instill civic behavior in residents and tourists alike, as well as creating a safe and tidy environment for touristic development. If the program turns out to be successful, it will be reviewed for permanent implementation.
The biggest city of the Center attracted two million tourists during the first half of the year, of which 600,000 were foreigners. A 25% growth compared to past years, especially important since tourism in the rest of Vietnam is doing not too well.
The fines for littering on the beach lie between VND 50,000 and VND 100,000. Residents throwing their trash on the street are fined VND 200,000 and urinating in public places costs VND 300,000.
An officer who wants to remain anonymous, said:
“We want to raise people’s awareness of keeping the environment clean.
The punishment will be enforced thoroughly to deter violations.”
The program was welcomed with open arms by my friends and acquaintances here in Saigon, Vietnamese and foreigners alike, and the general consensus was that other cities in Vietnam should follow Da Nang’s pioneering example.
Is Da Nang’s cleanup mission spreading?
After Da Nang’s environment and tourism program popped up all over the media, groups of young environmental activists, as well as local governments have taken the torch and started their own environmental programs.
Here, youth are collecting trash at the beaches of Phan Thiet, as well as the results of their effort:
And here, people are collecting trash at the shores of Nha Trang. It seems they’ve been hired by the local government:
In fact, people collecting trash is not a new hype. Vietnamfriendship published an article in May 2015, introducing two Vietnamese men - Tuan at the age of 50 and Tran Xuan Mao, 70, who made it a habit to clean up the streets and beaches. They are active in La Gi Town in the south-central province of Binh Thuan and on Nam O Beach in Lien Chieu District’s Hoa Hiep Bac Ward in Da Nang.
They also mentioned Pierrot, a Canadian man who cleaned up the beaches along Pham Van Dong Street in Nha Trang during his stay in Vietnam. Pictures of other foreign tourists picking up garbage along Cat Ba Beach in Hai Phong City caused a commotion on social media.
Actions like that often inspire local people to lend them a hand and help in the tidying up process. Nonetheless, the trash collected here is just the tip of the iceberg.
I hope that the media presence of Da Nang’s example will put some pressure on the local governments in other regions, so after neglecting the garbage problem for far too long, they may finally tackle it.
A mix of raising awareness and imposing penalties should reach every culprit of the country. But I have witnessed the process of developing an environmental consciousness before, and it’s a long and tedious one that has to start in the mind of every single person.
Youth collecting trash in Phan Thiet: Chris Owen
Staff cleaning up the shores of Nha Trang: Brice Belian
Spanish tourist picking up garbage at Hai Phong: Pham Ngoc Long
Rest: Frank Fox