November, 21 2013 09:40:00

Tighter management of hydro reservoirs needed

by Thu Van

Forty-six people are dead or missing, while 74 others are injured.

Some 410 houses collapsed and were washed away. More than 425,000 other houses were inundated.

A 16 -year-old student drowned in the flood before her father's eyes as he stood at the other end of the bridge. An 18-year-old student was washed away while trying to make her way through the flood waters on a boat to buy food for her family. A mother and her 11-year-old son could not escape the flood waters while trying to reach the house of grandparents of her son.

These are only a few of the statistics created by the recent flood in central Viet Nam, from the Thua Thien – Hue to Phu Yen provinces.

The pain of those who have lost their loved ones is unspeakable. Those who are still alive in these areas must face life fraught with difficulties, with many having lost everything.

It's always the poor who suffer the most.

It's unfortunate that Mother Nature sometimes creates natural disasters that negatively impact humans. But it's unforgivable for human beings who are capable of preventing similar disasters to fail to do so.

Before all of the damage mentioned above could take place, 15 hydropower reservoirs in the country's central region had started to discharge their waters due to excessive rain.

While most of the owners of these hydro-plants claimed they had informed people of the discharge plans, people still died and houses were still washed away.

The leaders of some communes said they had not even heard about the plans for discharge. Some others stated that the announcement had come too late, giving them only two to four hours warning before the discharge began.

Many commune leaders noted that they couldn't do anything to cope with the floods with only two hours of notice.

Yet, it is legal for hydro-plants to fail to meet these social obligations in Viet Nam! The prime minister has approved the regulations on the operation of hydro-plants, allowing their managers to announce their plans to discharge water with only two hours of advance notice.

However, it is also true that if the two-hour period proves to be inadequate in reality, local leaders need to inform the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to ensure further adjustments are made by the prime minister.

For the notice period to be proven irrational, many people had to lose their lives. Losses have been racked up that can't be compensated.

It is scientifically true that when flooding occurs, water discharge from hydropower reservoirs is necessary. However, an effective flood prevention system would ensure the damage was limited for local residents. At the very least, they need more time to get to safety.

In addition, the water discharge from hydro-power reservoirs has become an annual event.

In November 2011, flood waters discharged by several hydro-power reservoirs in central Viet Nam killed 22 people.

In 2012, hundreds of residents in southern Dong Nai and Binh Duong provinces lost their homes and hundreds of tonnes of fish were lost due to the sudden discharge of water from the Tri An hydro-plant.

Plus, irrational procedures are not the only problem in this scenario.

Nguyen Minh Viet, director of the Institute for Hydro-power and Renewable Energy, said most of the hydro plants in central Viet Nam are privately invested.

The owners of these plants are always trying to maximize their profits, and thus, they often make light of the importance of flood-prevention reservoirs.

These reservoirs can hold water discharged by hydro-power plants when floods occur. However, it is often expensive to build such reservoirs.

Tran Nhon, former Deputy Minister of Water Resources (1991), noted that the current management of hydro plants in the country has deteriorated along with the proliferation of hydro-plant projects.

More than 150 hydro-plants have been approved across six provinces so far. Recent investigations into the existing 76 hydro-plants in 16 provinces uncovered many shortcomings.

Most of these projects were not thoroughly researched and did not receive proper investments, resulting in negative consequences for the environment.

Le Huu Thuan, vice head of the Department of Water Resource Management of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, pointed out that many of these hydro-plants operate without a license!

It's clear that poor planning and mismanagement at hydro-plants can have serious consequences for the locals.

Experts on this matter have proposed timely adjustments to examination and licensing procedures for hydro-plants.

They also urge the construction of solar- and wind-energy projects since Viet Nam, as a tropical country, has a coastal line of 2,400 kilometres, with abundant resources for solar and wind energy.

There is not enough time to discuss establishing a code to co-ordinate the discharge of floodwaters. The rain will come every year and so will the flood.

It's critical for the Vietnamese government to not only generate more electricity but also build a more sustainable life for its people.

Utilizing the potential of hydro-power in an ecologically sustainable manner means standards, guidelines and safeguards must be created and enforced to ensure balance between the environment and further development. — VNS

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