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Vietnam ranks fifth in the Happy Planet Index results, and second in the Asia Pacific region. This South-East Asian country, characterised by its mountains and tropical forests, has a strikingly low Ecological Footprint and economic output per head almost 24 times smaller than nearby Hong Kong. Vietnam is one of just three countries in the top ten Happy Planet Index rankings with an Ecological Footprint that is small enough to be considered environmentally sustainable.
What’s working well in Vietnam?
While wellbeing in Vietnam is more modest than in other countries in the top ten HPI rankings, its average wellbeing score is still higher than Hong Kong’s – despite the Vietnamese economy being significantly smaller and Vietnam’s Ecological Footprint being less than a fifth of the size of Hong Kong’s.
Vietnam has an impressive average life expectancy. Both Vietnam and the Gambia have similar sized economies with similar levels of GDP per capita, yet on average, people from Vietnam live more than 17 years longer.
Vietnam’s inequality of outcomes rating, which measures inequality in wellbeing and life expectancy scores within the country, is better than that of HPI #1 Costa Rica - a likely testament to Vietnam’s robust public service provision. School enrolment is among the highest in the world at 98% in 2012, and the number of colleges and universities continues to grow rapidly.
Vietnam is on a steep development trajectory. The country has been hailed as a global poster child for poverty reduction - the number of people living in poverty fell from 58% in 1993 to 10.7% in 2010.
What’s not working?
Although sustainable today, as Vietnam’s economy has grown, its Ecological Footprint has also been rising steeply. With the current government having set its sights on rapid economic growth between now and 2020, Vietnam faces important choices about its future. An industry-led development path similar to its richer neighbour, Malaysia, would likely see a massive increase in its per capita Ecological Footprint – bad news for sustainability in the region.
Photo credit: CC Lucas Jans