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Ravaged by years of war which brought napalm, millions of tons of explosives and land mines, and intense fighting throughout forest areas, Vietnam's rainforests have been seriously damaged. The use of chemical defoliants during the war was particularly destructive and some areas still show signs of damage.

Today, Vietnam's breakneck economic growth has taken a heavy toll on its natural forests. Between 1990 and 2005, the country lost a staggering 78 percent of its primary forests, leaving it with only 85,000 hectares of old-growth forest (0.66 percent of its forest cover or 0.26 percent of its total land cover). The total loss of forest (38 percent during that period) has been moderate, but still is among the highest in the world. The good news is that deforestation appears to be slowing in Vietnam. Since the close of the 1990s, average annual deforestation rates have fallen by 18 percent.

Much of Vietnam's forest clearing results from commercial agriculture and subsistence activities, notably small-scale agriculture and fuelwood collection. The government has tried to stem forest loss by promoting a massive reforestation project which was initiated in 1986. Since 1990, the area covered by plantations has expanded from 967,000 hectares to more than 2.7 million hectares.

Mining is also a threat to Vietnam's forest, but on a much smaller scale. Agricultural fires can spread into forest areas during particularly dry years, especially under el Niño conditions.

The government has blamed deforestation for worsening soil erosion and floods—though the flood link is tenuous and inundations are more likely the result of poor government policies regarding land settlement than actual forest loss.

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Last updated: 4 Feb 2006

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