Economic benefits overrule environment protection

A major impediment in the path to saving the polluted Dong Nai River is a conflict of interests between environmental protection and economic benefits.

The Dong Nai river system plays an extremely important role in the economic development of 12 provinces and cities, including Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Ba Ria Vung Tau, Long An, Tay Ninh, Lam Dong, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan.

Local authorities developed a project to improve the water quality of the river. According to the project plan, provinces along the upper reaches of the river like Lam Dong and Dak Nong would work towards conserving the forest areas while provinces along the lower sections of the river would work towards halting all environment unfriendly businesses and pollutants.

Several plants along Dong Nai River dumping untreated wastewater into the water (Photo: SGGP)

However, these goals have not been realized as almost all the provinces are more worried about the economic implications of such actions.

Lam Dong Province has 70 hydropower plants, many of which have changed the water current of rivers and depleted the lower sections.

Similarly, Dak Nong Province has 79 hydropower plants; construction of some of the plants has severely reduced the forest area in the province.

An official from the Dak Nong Province said that they need to build these plants as they provide employment to local residents and help increase the local budget. Moreover, provinces from both the upper reaches and the lower sections have to strive to attain economic targets set by the Government.

Representatives of Long An Province say local authorities in the river valley should show more determination and take firm action in handling businesses operating without wastewater treatment systems.

Several provinces have ignored businesses that are causing pollution as they are afraid it would jeopardize investments which will certainly reduce their income.

Hundreds of businesses and industrial zones (IZ) will have to shut operations to improve the water quality of the river and each locality in turn will have to spend a huge amount to carry out projects to limit pollution in the river.

Overlooking future benefits

Ho Chi Minh City is leading the country in curbing environmental pollution. However, to do this the city has suffered much economically.

Quach To Dung, permanent deputy director of the Department of Industry and Trade said over 1,200 production units have been relocated from residential areas, several of which have stopped operations or switched to other fields. Fifteen IZs and export processing zones have been forced to build wastewater treatment systems.

However, only very few other localities are following the example of HCMC.  Provinces like Binh Duong, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Tay Ninh and Dong Nai have listed businesses causing pollution but have only issued penalties and let the businesses operate as before.

Firm leadership required

The environmental protection and economic benefits should be balanced in provinces and cities belonging to Dong Nai River (Photo: SGGP)

According to Nguyen Minh Giam, deputy director of the Southern Regional Hydro Meteorological Forecasting Center, the key problem in protecting the Dong Nai River is the conflict of interests in each province.

This has been obvious from the ineffective results of the Committee for Protection of the Dong Nai River Valley, which Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung decided to set three years ago.

The Chairman of the People’s Committee of HCMC was the first committee chairman for a three-year term. The next two-year terms would be held by a person from one of the 12 provinces and cities along the Dong Nai River system.

None of the committee chairmen have showed any interest in implementing projects to protect the river valley along the other 11 localities.

The chairman has always focused all attention within his own province or city. Projects that need implementation in other provinces have only received verbal suggestions and not monitored. No one has taken responsibility of accountability of any of the projects.

Professor Dang Trung Thuan from the Vietnam Institute of Tropical Technology and Environmental Protection stressed that distributing management responsibilities was lacking and was the main reason for the ineffective protection of the river water quality.

Tackling the Dong Nai river project needs a dynamic leader to come forward and compel all provinces and cites to implement the schemes for protecting the river. Such a leader will have to wisely balance economic benefits of the people and localities with environmental protection.

Such leadership qualities in present times rest only within the Government.

Related article:
Conflict of management worsens river pollution

By Ai Van – Translated by Hai Mien

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