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The Vietnam Rivers Network (VRN) last week said while hydroelectric power plants contributed to socio-economic development, “they are negatively impacting on ecological systems and the natural environment of the river basins and this endangers not only people’s lives but also national water and food security.”
“Hydroelectricity should not be seen as a clean and cheap source of energy to develop at any price, in any place. Vietnam’s plan to develop hydroelectricity must be revised,” VRN said.
Its calls comes amid a massive push to build more hydroelectric power plants and already there is evidence this is hurting the environment.
In March 2011, central Binh Dinh province’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment caught Vinh Son-Song Hinh Hydroelectricity Joint Stock Company polluting the environment, while building the Vinh Son hydroelectric power plants 3 and 5.
The firm was then hit with a paltry VND32 million ($1,538) fine, despite dumping large amounts of solid waste at the project sites.
Vietnam Irrigation Association chairman Vu Trong Hong said nearly 900 small- and medium-sized hydroelectric dams were now obstructing the character of Vietnam’s rivers, with the damage particularly severe in the Central Highland regions.
“Nearly all branches of every river in Vietnam have been obstructed, often times in multiple places, by hydroelectric dams. Localities are much less likely to experience socio-economic development when they cannot regulate and benefit from the use of their water resources,” Hong said.
Nguyen Ty Nien, a local expert who has worked for 50 years in the water sector, said that the uncontrolled construction of hydroelectric dams in Vietnam should raise red flags.
“Forest and ecosystem destruction and pollution of land and water can be seen anywhere where there are hydroelectric dams upstream. Every one of these dams has changed the course of that river and thrown out of balance numerous biological systems,” Nien said.
For example, central Quang Nam province’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment said 43 hydroelectric power dams in the province had caused destruction to 10,000 hectares of forests. Specifically, the Song Tranh hydroelectric power plants 2 (190MW) and 3 (62MW, now under construction) have eaten 2,600ha of forests. Construction of the 210MW A Vuong hydroelectric power plant has caused 1,000ha of forests to disappear.
On average, about 16ha of forest was destroyed for every megawatt of hydroelectric power produced, said VRN expert Dao Trong Hung. Hong said the surge in hydroelectric power plants follo wed the government privatising electric power generation.
Do Huu Hao, a former deputy minister of Industry and Trade, last week said that construction of hydroelectric power plants in Vietnam was slowing, not because of environmental concerns, but because they were becoming less economically feasible due to water shortages.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment recently announced it would inspect hydroelectric dams in 22 provinces and cities nationwide. The number of small hydroelectric dams in Vietnam rose from 340 to 880 recently with the total electricity generation capacity of 5,880MW. Many of them are located in Lao Cai, Son La, Gia Lai and Kon Tum provinces.