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  Threats faced by Peatlands in Vietnam

Threats to Peatlands and Root Causes of Peatland Degradation

The main threats to peatlands and their impacts and root causes in Vietnam have been identified in Appendix I. Although significant progress has been made in peatland fire control in Vietnam, fires still persists and remain a threat. One such example is the very destructive fire at the U Minh Thuong National Park in the years 2000 and 2002. There is increasing recognition that peatland drainage is one of the main root causes of these forest fires, and that to prevent fires it is important to address the root causes such as the inappropriate development strategies, subsidies and incentive measures which encourage peatland drainage and degradation and inappropriate water management systems.

The conversion of peatlands into other land use types, namely for logging and agriculture in the interest of economic gain, is mainly due to a lack of knowledge about peatlands and their ecological values. There has been limited research in the past about peatlands in Vietnam and management decisions have been based on this lack of information. Capacity for peatland management is also limited – there is no comprehensive strategy for the management of peatlands; no integrated strategy for the management of fire and water in peatlands; insufficient tools and equipment for fire control and combating and a lack of trained staff in peatland management.

Policies and institutional arrangements for the management of peatlands are still weak and inappropriate. The existing system governing land-use on peatlands (agriculture and peat extraction) does not provide for incentives and mechanisms for the re-naturalization of degraded peatlands. There is no single agency coordinating all decisions affecting peatlands. Instead, the agencies concerned with the different sectors have differing backgrounds and interests and approach peatland management in an un-coordinated manner, leading to conflict in policies and the degradation of peatlands.

For example, the forestry sector is in charge of the forest, forest fire, and the conservation of wildlife in peatlands. Meanwhile, fishery resources are managed by the fishery sector, hydrology is managed by the irrigation sector, the land area itself is under the jurisdiction of the land administration sector, and peat is managed by the industry sector. Limited inter-sectoral cooperation in water resource management, land use planning and coastal zone management remains a major obstacle to peatland management. On the other hand, lack of a logical, scientifically grounded, transparent and cross-sectoral decision-making scheme about degraded peatlands remains a key factor contributing to continued degradation.

Although the conservation and rehabilitation of sensitive areas (eg. Peatlands) is envisaged in numerous sectoral plans and programs, the reality is that there is no cross-sectoral dialogue on the future of degraded peatlands that takes into account multi-disciplinary information (including scientific arguments) and which involves local stakeholders. The prevailing situation is characterized by a lack of coordination and enforcement of sectoral plans and programs that, in principle, support rehabilitation and conservation of degraded peatlands.

A limited knowledge of peatlands has also led to inappropriate consideration of the hydrology of peatlands. This has increased the risk of fires and accelerated the decomposition of peat by exposing it to air. For example, one common practice in fire management in Vietnam is the construction of canals to ‘break’ the fires to stop them spreading once they have started. Studies have now proven that the building of canals increases water loss from peatlands, lowers the water table, accelerates the oxidization of peat and increases the risk of fires.

In addition, poverty and the dependency on peatland resources of local communities living in and around peatland areas have also contributed significantly to the declining trend of peatlands. These communities have short-term needs for production lands, and combined with the lack of appreciation of the values of peatlands, they convert large areas of peatlands into agricultural land. Peatland ecosystems are very rich in resources that could meet the everyday needs of these people. However human pressure on peatlands has led to the over-exploitation of peatland resources. Illegal poaching activities have also increased water loss and fire risks in peatlands.