The Socialist Republic of Vietnam consists of the former Democratic
Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the former Republic of Vietnam (South
Vietnam). The division of the country resulted from the defeat of the French by
Communist-inspired nationalists in 1954. A prolonged civil war resulted in a
victory for the Communist north, and reunification occurred in mid-1976.

Physical Setting

Vietnam has an area of 127,207 square miles (329,465 square kilometers) and
is located in Southeast Asia. The country has a coastline of nearly 1,440 miles
(2,317 kilometers), much of which fronts on the South China Sea. Border
countries are China, Cambodia, and Laos. The latter two countries, along with
Vietnam, constituted the former French Indochina.

Northern Vietnam is quite mountainous, especially the extreme north and
northwest. The Red River (Song Hong), which originates in China\'s Yunnan
Province, is the principal river of the north and is about 725 miles (1,167
kilometers) in length. The major lowland area is a delta that has been created
by deposits from the Red River as it enters the Gulf of Tonkin. The river passes
through the capital city of Hanoi. For more than 2,000 years the Tonkin Lowland,
considered the cradle of Vietnamese civilization, has been the scene of
considerable water control efforts in the form of canals and dikes.

The southernmost portion of the country is dominated by another lowland
that is much more extensive than that in the north. This lowland has essentially
been created by the Mekong River (Song Cuu Long) and its various tributaries.
Just north of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) the landscape becomes more
varied and rolling with forested hills.

The central portion of Vietnam varies in width but is only 35 miles (56
kilometers) at its narrowest point. This region has only a narrow coastal strip
in contrast to the rest of the coastline, where wider lowlands exist.

The westernmost portion of the area is dominated by the Annamese, or
Annamite, Cordillera, a major mountain chain, which forms the spine of the
country from north to south. Along with the two major rivers, there are many
shorter rivers that drain the highlands and flow eastward to the South China Sea.
The country also has six island groups, 14 separate mountain ranges, and three
large lakes.

The climate of Vietnam is largely tropical, though the north may be
distinguished as subtropical. Differences in humidity, rainfall, and temperature
are caused largely by changes in elevation. The north has a hot and humid five-
month-long wet season lasting from May through September. The remainder of the
year is relatively warm and rainfree, but humid. A prolonged period of fog,
cloudiness, and drizzle occurs from December through April in the central zone
and coastal lowlands. The south is characterized by a monsoon-type climate
dominated by a changing wind pattern that brings rainfall. The rainy period is
shorter than in the north.

In the north maximum rainfall occurs in July and August, while in the south
these peaks are in June and September. Average rainfall at Hanoi is 72 inches
(183 centimeters) per year, at Hue 117 inches (297 centimeters), and at Ho Chi
Minh City 81 inches (206 centimeters). In the higher elevations of the Annamese
mountain chain, rainfall can exceed 175 inches (445 centimeters). The region is
subject to typhoons, which may occur from July through November. Daily
temperatures in the south range between 64 and 92 F (18 and 33 C), while in
the north the climate is considerably cooler. Average summer temperatures are
approximately 82 F (28 C) with the winter average at 63 F (17 C).

People and Culture

The population of Vietnam in the early 1990s was estimated at more than 67
million. Birth- and death rates respectively were 31 and 9 per thousand. The
natural rate of increase per year is 2.3 percent. If this rate continued, the
population of the country would double within 30 years. Family planning services,
including contraception and abortion, are widely available. A major goal is to
reduce the rate of population growth to less than 2 percent per year. The infant
mortality rate of 69 per 1,000 live births is close to that of the Philippines
but higher than that of Malaysia. The average life expectancy is 60 years.

Given the contrasting landforms of the country, the distribution of the
population is very uneven. Major concentrations are found in the Red and Mekong
river deltas, where densities may exceed 2,000 persons per square mile (772 per
square kilometer). The average density, however, is much lower 488 persons per
square mile (188 per square kilometer).