Haphazard planning of hydropower plants in Vietnam: Experts

According to environment experts, hydropower plants in Vietnam have been developed without proper assessment and planning of the detrimental effects to the environment and the havoc they are causing to the daily lives of local residents. 

Dak Mi 4 Hydropower Plant dam in Phuoc Son District in Quang Nam Province (Photo: SGGP)

Associate Professor and Dr. Le Bac Huynh, from the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment, said that planning of irrigation and hydropower plants did not include detailed and strategic environment assessment. As a result, the impact of irrigation or hydropower plants on the local environment, especially water resources, cannot be fully estimated.

Concerned parties have only begun to conduct environment impact assessment of hydropower projects in recent years. Earlier they rarely carried out such studies or surveys.

Huynh said that planning of medium and small reservoirs was approved by provincial people’s committees without proper surveys by central departments, which led to building of a number of reservoirs.

Construction of reservoirs was decided by authorized organs without asking for opinion of local residents who only learn of such projects once the construction begins. 

Nguyen Vu Trung, from the Department of Environment Impact Assessment under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said that several hydropower plants in Vietnam were constructed before 2005 when the environment protection law did not exist. Hence strategic environment assessment was not applied.

The environment protection law of 2005 has provisions for strategic environment assessment but does not cover details of planning.

The ministry is now amending the law to include better environment management.

Dr. Dao Trong Tu, former deputy secretary general of the Mekong River Commission, said that a recent research conducted by China showed that environment impact assessment can estimate only 0.5 percent of what will take place in reality.

As a result both environment impact assessment, strategic environment assessment and other studies on geology and culture are collectively indispensible to implementation of hydropower projects.
Environment experts say that the river ecosystem and the livelihood of local residents are the most important factors that should be focused on when building hydropower plants. So far, no attention has been paid to these very vital issues in Vietnam.

The Social Development Research Center under the Union of Science and Technology Associations in Thua Thien-Hue Province conducted an environment and social impact assessment three years after the Binh Dien Hydropower Plant was built on the Huong River.

The Center’s assessment report shows that construction of the plant has caused much pollution in the river and reduced seafood output by 50-70 percent compared to before 2009, when the plant had not been built. Some fish species of high economic value have also disappeared.

By Tran Luu – Translated by Hai Mien

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