Over-exploitation of rivers has caused a great deal of damage. Dr. Dao Trong Tu, director of the Centre for Sustainable Water Resources and Climate Change, tells Ha Noi Moi (New Ha Noi) newspaper.
Experts and public opinion recently objected to an urban rehabilitation and development project by the Dong Nai River in Southern Viet Nam as they feared that reclamation would leave negative impact on the downstream area, change the currents and cause river bank erosion. Consequently, the project has been suspended. Do you think it was only a local issue?
I definitely confirm the issue regarding the Dong Nai River has exposed a reality that the river-related national economic development is now seriously threatening the country's total river network, with the situation reaching an alarming rate.
The exploitation of rivers has been happening nation-wide in many forms, including encroachment, reclamation for civil construction, illegal sand exploitation and transportation. The punitive measures were not enough to prevent it.
Even in the capital Ha Noi, a company recently tried to make plans to build a golf yard on the Hong (Red) River flood drainage corridor, or a district tried to encroach large areas of the same river without adequately studying the impact on the river environment. Neither the city nor the local authorities took any mitigating steps. Both these violations became an issue and were condemned in the local newspapers.
Thus, what happened in case of Dong Nai and Hong Rivers were examples of environmental violations that were discovered and found condemnation from experts as well as the media. Many others rivers are also suffering a similar situation but those issues have not become public and responsible management authorities have not yet contended with them.
The local provincial authorities, not companies, should bear most responsibility in case of such issues because once a project was suggested, it had to pass so many procedures to get the approval for construction but was finally suspended due to objections. In such cases, the companies had to bear financial damage while environment and administrative responsibility should be borne by both, the local management and the government. In case of Dong Nai River, the issue was fortunately solved, thanks to the Prime Minister, who, after ordering an investigation, decided to suspend the project till further research on its impact on social and environmental conditions.
Rivers should be considered as the nation's "blood vessels" and should be protected. Any socio-development project related to rivers should be planned very cautiously before it is implemented.
What are the challenges facing the downstream rivers as almost all upstream rivers are being exploited for hydro-power energy production?
Viet Nam has an extensive river network with a total of 3,000 rivers of all types crisscrossing throughout the country. This provides favourable conditions for socio-economic development. However, a rapid increase in population and an overheated socio-economic development scenario are resulting in an uncontrolled and unsustainable tapping of rivers' potential.
Upstream rivers, as per plans, are being targetted for the construction of a variety of hydro-power plants to meet the increasing national energy demand. However, there is not yet a comprehensive plan for downstream rivers. This means we are discriminating against downstream rivers. This is also the main reason for many uncontrolled violations that are becoming more widespread and dangerous.
Most of the downstream rivers are bearing the brunt of over-exploitation. Waste water discharged from many handicraft villages and industrial zones, along with construction-related encroachment by riverbanks is polluting the environment and destroying the flora related to rivers.
Currently, reservoirs and dams have been built on almost all rivers to preserve water. The country should focus on effective managing these reservoirs in order to limit the negative effect on river flows to a minimum.
Every rainy season, people living by downstream rivers suffer huge damage caused by severe floods. Aside from natural factors, does the opening of floodgates of reservoirs in upstream rivers where there are hydro-power plants, cause such floods down stream?
Many people have blamed hydro-power plants with reservoirs as the main cause of severe floods in many downstream river areas. Actually, hydro-power plants themselves, along with reservoirs, are not the main causes of floods but their bad operation and management have contributed to a misunderstanding about their role. Various researches have proved that if all factors — environmental, societal and developmental — were considered while planning a hydro-power plant project, the impact on the river could be limited to a minimum.
In Viet Nam, some hydro-power plants were built without adequate research on river flows and environmental factors. Their management and operation have not been effective, leading to a number of incidents.
Lack of modern and well-equipped weather forecast system has also added to wrong-doings at many reservoirs in rainy seasons. — VNS