Central Vietnam province weighs dam damage against gains

By Dac Thanh   January 22, 2021 | 05:02 pm PT
Central Vietnam province weighs dam damage against gains
Workers stuck at the construction site of Dak Mi 2 hydropower project in Quang Nam Province's Phuoc Son District due to flash floods are rescued on October 30, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan.
Hurting from floods and landslides that ravaged it last year, Quang Nam says it will suspend hydropower projects deemed to pose environmental threats.

Quang Nam, home to the famous tourist hotspot Hoi An, has so far approved 46 hydropower projects with a combined capacity of 1,816 MW, it was said at a meeting held in the central province Wednesday.

Of these, 22 with a total capacity of 1,273 MW have begun operations, eight are under construction, and the rest are still in the process of investment preparation.

According to the provincial Department of Industry and Trade, dam projects have made it easier for the province to access funding for related infrastructure projects like roads, schools and the supply of water and electricity. This in turn has created jobs for locals and improved their living standards.

However, the department admitted that several hydropower plants located in mountainous areas have damaged forest land to greater or lesser extents.

The role of hydropower plants in the deadly landslides triggered by floods and heavy rains in the province last year should be taken into serious consideration, a department representative said at the meeting.

Truong Xuan Ty, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that apart from contributing to the national power grid, hydropower projects in Quang Nam have played a role in controlling floods during the rainy season and providing water for downstream areas in the dry season.

However, environmental impact assessments have not been done of construction of infrastructure projects following the hydropower plants, he said.

Provincial vice chairman Nguyen Hong Quang, who chaired the meeting, said investors of projects that have begun operations have to ensure absolute safety and strictly follow regulations.

The environmental impacts of projects that are still under construction have to be looked at carefully, he said.

He said the provincial department of industry and trade will collaborate with other concerned agencies to review all the projects and make an assessment of their environmental impacts.

"Our agenda is not to trade environment for economic development at any cost," Quang said.

He insisted that any hydropower project that shows signs of harming the environment should be dealt with firmly or even suspended.

Viet Son, vice chairman of the province’s Nam Giang District, concurred with Quang.

He said the district was currently home to 11 dams – six of them operational and the rest still on paper.

Generally speaking, such projects have allowed the district to attract investment for infrastructure development and increase budget collection.

Yet this has created the problem of such projects taking away the agricultural land of local people and as a result, farmers have turned to cultivating illegally on land that belongs to protected forests, he said.

"Nam Giang District agrees that any projects that are not truly essential but cause significant threats for the environment should be eliminated," Son said.

Nguyen Quang, vice chairman of Phuoc Son District, said there were five dams being built in the district.

For now, the Dak Mi 4 plant has changed the flow of the Dak Mi River, causing more serious erosion in Phuoc Hiep Commune.

Nguyen Hoang Linh, vice chairman of Tay Giang District, set to have five dams, said its A Vuong 4 project with a capacity of 100 MW was now at the investment preparation stage.

However, once it goes up, the project will take away 8.2 hectares (20.26 acres) of protected forests and 3.8 hectares of production forest (plantations), he said.

"I suggest that the province stops this project before it takes shape," he said.

The entire central region and parts of the Central Highlands were hit by a series of storms last October that triggered torrential downpours, resulting in severe flooding and landslides.

Quang Nam was one of five hardest hit provinces, the others being Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue.

The province lost 43 residents, 13 are still listed as missing and 350 people suffered serious injuries. Apart from the human cost, 650 houses were completely destroyed and almost 4,400 others were seriously damaged. The province has estimated total damage at nearly VND11 trillion ($480 million).

Both the public and experts have blamed the destruction on deforestation, uncontrolled construction and other man-made changes to the natural terrain, including construction of dams.

Last month, the Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh asked local authorities to put on hold all small scale hydropower projects that have been planned but are yet to be invested in.

Such projects should only be carried out once their environmental assessments confirm they will not have negative impacts on the environment, he said.

As of 2018, the country had 385 hydropower projects in operation and another 143 under construction, according to state-owned power utility Vietnam Electricity.

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