Ho Chi Minh road brings new life to ethnic minorities

A number of newly established urban centers have recently sprung up in the mountainous areas, Central Highlands, where the restored national Ho Chi Minh high road has brought new life to thousands of ethnic minorities living in the region.

A new section of the Ho Chi Minh high road in P' rao Town, Quang Nam Province

Houses were hooked up to the electricity grid at the same time the highway was restored.

The building of a number of large scale hydroelectricity projects, including A Vuong, which generates 815 million Kwh of electricity annually, have been speeded up so that these power plants can come online in 2009 and 2010 as planned.

According to a high-ranking official of Quang Nam Province, after the completion of phase 1 of the Ho Chi Minh High Road Restoration Project, the building of a further of 55 hydroelectricity plants along the highway will be approved. Among them are 10 large scale projects, with a total capacity of 1,094 MW, and 45 medium to small scale projects, with a total capacity of 400 MW.

Electricity has brought a new gust of wind to the lives of ethnic minorities, including Pa Co, Ta Oi, Co Tu, Van Kieu, Ma Lieng and Re Trieng in the western highlands of the country. A local said, “We are all pleased with the restored Uncle Ho highway. Thanks to it, we now have a better life.”

In fact, most ethnic minorities can now live an improved life after moving from the highlands to settle down on lower lands near the highway. Since they no longer have to spend their life in jungles and till their fields on the mountain slops, the locals have quickly adapted themselves with wet rice cultivation, and livestock and cattle breeding practices thus becoming better off. They have bought motorbikes to drive instead of walking and have TV sets in their homes.

Phuoc Son Ward, Quang Nam Province is one of the most populous and richest new urbanized areas located on Truong Son National Highway. The development of the ward has been accredited to the existence of the restored highway in the region, as it boosts trade between locals and traders from big cities in the lowlands.

After the restoration of the highway, the ratio of poor households has enjoyed a year-on-year reduction by six percent. Electricity has now been delivered to nine of out 11 communes throughout the ward. Elementary and high schools have been built to offer seats to over 6,000 pupils and students in the ward.

Aside from the road , Phuoc Son has its own system of communication routes. It consists of 58 km of streets that link Phuoc Son with other districts in the region and over 100 km of roads that connect the communes throughout the district.

Every day, Ca Tu chidren walk to school via the Ho Chi Minh highway

Despite bringing encouraging development to the western highlands, the Ho Chi Minh highway still need more funds for further development so that it can become a convenient and safe line of communication, linking the North with the South.

Landslides have been reported to have occurred at 16 spots along the section of the highway running from Quang Nam to Kon Tum Province and at over 100 spots lying along the section running through Quang Nam.

The section running from Bac Son to Deo Da mountain pass in Quang Binh Province meets with the same fate. Severe landslides often block the communications and isolating people in the region from others.

A few bus companies are interested in exploiting the highway for their businesses. Mr. Pham Van Hai, deputy Director of Quang Nam Department of Transport, said, “At present, we only focus on short distance services, not only because the quality of the highway still does meet with the requirements but also because of the low quality of services offered by restaurants and boarding houses to passengers along the highway.

Mr Hai does trust the sustainable development in the region by pointing out a reduction in landslides, as the government has allocated more funds to landslide prevention projects.

He also revealed that the Ministry of Transport and the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism also have plans to build hotels and tourist areas while the Ministry of Industry and Trade is to build petrol station along the highway.

Mr Hai added that the building of a network of optic fiber cables is underway to ensure communication between the regions lying along the highway.

With the support of measures from relevant authorities, the Ho Chi Minh National Highway will no doubt meet the need to be the second most important national highway.

Established in the early days of the war against the Americans (1960-1975), the 1,690 km Ho Chi Minh Trail was a major logistical system that ran from the north to the south of Vietnam and also passed through Laos and Cambodia. It featured roads for trucks, paths for walking and cycling, and waterways for ferrying soldiers and supplies.

Thanks to the trail, the north could supply manpower and materials to the National Liberation Front in the south.

The section in Quang Binh Province is legendary. The mountains, rivers and villages in Quang Binh through which the trail ran (and still runs today) have become famous for the ferocious battles that took place there.

                                                                                                                                                                                    

By Ha Minh Nguyen – Translated by Phuong Lan

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