Social and environmental impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnamese provinces bordering China and Laos following border closure

Fish pens in a canal surrounded by steeps hills in northern Vietnam

Northern provinces in Vietnam that border China and Laos have been severely affected economically by the current Covid-19 pandemic. These provinces have high populations of ethnic minority groups such as the Tay, Nung, Hmong and Thai who rely in part on cross border migration to sustain their families' livelihoods. However, the Covid-19 crisis has led to the closure of international borders and migrant workers have been forced to return home. With this, major sources of income were foregone and because loss of employment in a foreign country is not recognized by Vietnamese social protection mechanisms in the context of this crisis, entire communities have had to develop their own coping mechanisms. For example, some communities have increasingly started to rely on their surrounding natural environment, including freshwater resources and forest products (both timber and non-timber products). It is not clear how effective these and other coping measures are, nor what the long term consequences on natural resources will be.

As there are many uncertainties regarding the evolution of the pandemic and the potential reopening of borders, we aim to investigate how the current crisis has shaped the relationship between vulnerable communities and their natural environment by combining different scientific approaches. Our research will achieve impact locally, by providing scientific evidence to local and national policy-makers as to the situation of vulnerable communities and of their environment, as well as developing future scenarios of this situation under various assumptions of the evolution of the pandemic and potential cross border movement. We are partnering with local authorities and aim to provide scientifically-grounded advice on amending existing policies so that ethnic minority-dominated regions can receive the appropriate support to ensure we are "leaving no-one behind", the stated aim of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

First published: 9 February 2021