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Locals duped by power plant promises

Update: October, 04/2013 - 08:39
The pristine Long Dai River is about to be made profitable by a new power plant, but at the cost of its surrounding communities and natural beauty. — VNS Photo Courtesy of Dr Le Anh Tuan

by Phuoc Buu

QUANG NAM (VNS)— Local authorities and residents living nearby hydro-electricity power dams in the Central region are bemoaning the negative impacts on their livelihood as power plants are failing to comply with their contractual commitments.

Weak compliance to uphold resettlement commitments for residents who gave up their land for the plants is an ongoing issue.

While agreements on water usage and the release mechanisms used by reservoirs during times of flooding is another contractual commitment which is being trampled on by the operators of the power plants.

Earlier this week water reservoirs in the Central region reached capacity as the Wutip storm dumped torrential rains on the area causing widespread devastation to lives and property.

Managers of the reservoirs are compelled to release water to the lowland areas in these conditions, however, an unexpected release of high volume water in a short period of time caused severe man-made flooding in central Nghe An Province.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dak Mi 4 power reservoir in Quang Nam released the excess water without any prior announcements, flooding residents in the Vu Gia - Thu Bon river basin.

"We could not save our property from the flood. We need announcements in advance before dumping by the reservoir managers," said Tran Thi Kim Hoa, a resident of Dai Loc District, at a people's forum held in the province yesterday.

According to Assoc Prof Dr Le Anh Tuan of Can Tho University, investors of every power plant had committed to the common ownership of the water resource before they implemented the construction of the plants. However, he said, most of them ignored the commitment.

"Compliance by the investors seemed to be good initially. But behind the scenes, they were ignoring what they had committed to," said Le Thi Thu Huong, deputy chairwoman of the People's Committee of Huong Tra town, Thua Thien Hue Province.

Huong said there are two power plants of Binh Dien and Huong Dien based in her locality, and the managers of these reservoirs had refused to release water for crops during dry seasons.

"Meanwhile, they continue releasing water to make floods in rainy seasons," she said.

Participants at the forum said benefits from the power plants is not for the whole community, merely for some groups in the society.

A representative from the reservoir managers said he gave consensus to the forum's idea of ‘group benefit' in power plant issue.

"There are benefits from power plants, but these are definitely for ‘group benefit', not community benefit," said Huong of Huong Tra township.

Tran Van Hat, a member of central Phu Yen Province's People's Council demanded a review of any power plants approved by the provincial authorities and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

"Responsibilities to the people must be ensured and community benefits must be higher than the so called ‘group benefit',' he said.

Profit and loss

The two power plants Binh Dien and Huong Dien had contributed to the development of roads and to the local budget of Huong's township of Huong Tra in Thua Thien Hue Province.

The 41kW Binh Dien and 81kW Huong Dien plants contributed about VND4billion a day to the local budget from their total daily revenues of maximum of VND15billion, she said.

"However, we are losing a lot," she said, noting the loss of 3,500ha of forest land that had been designated for local livelihood.

"We had to spend a lot to resettle residents in neighboring districts in five new villages," she added.

Degradation of alluvial content in the soil because of the reservoirs has damaged local livelihood while the town has to spend a lot on excavation of bank erosion and community disruption that is caused by the release of the water.

"We used to cultivate 1,000ha of thanh tra (a kind of pomelo that is seen only in Hue), but now the area it has been reduced to 300ha because of there is no more alluvial soil since the reservoirs have been operating," Huong said.

Dang Phong, deputy director of Quang Nam Province's Finance Department said power plants brought huge profit to investors and that in the last four years 47 plants have been proposed and built.

"Investment into power plants is profitable because of the growing national demand for electricity. This is a seductive factor for investors as there are huge profits to be made," Phong said.

Phong, a former chairman of the People's Committee of Bac Tra My District where the Song Tranh 2 power plant is located, added that the plant makes a profit of VND5 billion a day.

"However, nothing could compensate the loss of forest land and cultivation land of locals.

"Investors gave compensation for housing to residents, but they do nothing with livelihood of ethnic minorities in the locality." he said.

Residents who gave land for the Ta Trach reservoir in Thua Thien Hue said they lost their livelihood and that investor of the reservoir had cheated them.

"They promised to give us new land that even better than what we had, but nothing after 10 years of resettlement," said Phan Thi Qua, a local resident.

"Me and my community used to have land for rice and vegetable cultivation as well as forest land for forestry, but in the new area, they gave us only 1.2ha per household," Qua said.

She noted that the land given in exchange is of poor quality and locals could not cultivate anything on it, including forestry production.

"We lost our livelihood totally," Qua said. "They even stopped the three-year support resettlement programme after two years."

Ngo Xuan The from A Vuong power plant in Quang Nam said investors of the plants promised they would compensate the communities who gave up their land, but actually never did.

"They persuade communities about the standard of housing and lifestyles on offer. But the reality so far has proven that local lifestyles, livelihoods and culture is totally destroyed," he said, adding that the investors are remorseless in their attitude to the affected communities. — VNS


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