This paper looks at air pollution and the use of fuel efficient stoves in Vietnam.
Since the economic reforms known as Doi Moi was introduced in Vietnam, indoor air pollution, the use of coal, and the distribution of fuel efficient coal stoves have been left to the market forces. Regulation in some key areas, such as the quality of the coal, fuel efficiency and health impacts on stoves is either weak or absent resulting in poor quality products with possibly negative health impacts which have, not yet to been adequately documented. There are important opportunities to improve the air pollution surveillance systems and information sharing between experts who are working in different areas. Lack of funding for research has resulted in limited data on air pollution and health which are needed for evidence-based planning and coordination. Expertise on the topic is fragmented. Experts on ambient air pollution for example are rarely familiar with policies and research on cook stove and coal. Similarly, most of experts on cook stove and coal are not well informed about ambient air pollution. The result is a lack of a coordinated approach. Both urban and rural poor cook on biomass and coal. The unregulated production of beehive coal by poor households in peri-urban areas, and in nearby agricultural areas may have long term negative environmental impacts.
Vietnam has no national standards for cook stoves, allowing the sale on the market of low-quality and harmful products. Production of better-quality stoves and coal is entirely possible technically. But lack of protection of intellectual property rights, and legislation to ban unsafe and cheap technology and coal are obstacles to investors. However, even if these problems in the market can be reduced, it is difficult to see how the poorest households can afford higher cost than the current low-quality beehives. Based on past experience, many Vietnamese are reluctant to subsidies and believe in the market. A laissez fair approach however, towards coal and fuel efficient stoves is also problematic. Without regulation, unsafe, cheap stoves and inferior coal can gain market share over safer but more expensive stoves and coal. Therefore, a successful coal or cook stove programme will require a public-private partnership as well as informed consumers.