Trend may dilute rapid GDP gains of recent years Vietnam's exploding population is threatening to undermine the country's fast-moving economic development, state authorities fear. Officials expect 2004 will be the second consecutive year that Vietnam sees a record population increase. At present growth rates, the population will reach 100 million by 2010. The government hopes to postpone this milestone to 2025. Officials say the trend threatens to worsen overcrowding in Vietnam, whose population density - 250 people per sq km - is already more than 50 per cent higher than the average in Asia. This could stretch public services and dilute the rapid gross domestic product gains Vietnam has posted in recent years in efforts to overcome poverty and isolation. 'Vietnam has a big population but is still a very poor country,' said Ta Thanh Hang, deputy director of the Commission for Population, Family and Children. The boom, after years of relative stability, is largely attributed to the fact that the millions of Vietnamese women born in the decade after the 1975 end of the Vietnam war are now in their prime birthing years and their young families are adding to the crisis. Last year, the population rose a record 1.2 million, pushing the total to about 82 million, the 13th highest population in the world. Mr Hang said the birth rate remained highest in poor rural areas, where large families were traditional and birth control rare. But the rate was also rising in the large cities as more couples could afford having more mouths to feed. Mr Hang said the government was launching an education campaign to combat the rising baby count. Part of the problem was that the public had widely interpreted last year's new Ordinance on Population as giving them the freedom to have as many children as they wanted. Vietnam has long had a two-child policy. But Mr Hang said it had never prohibited families from having three or more.