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Hydropower plants pose risks

Update: November, 15/2014 - 09:18

Tran Viet Ngai, chairman of the Viet Nam Energy Association (VEA), tells Nong Thon Ngay Nay (Countryside Today) that small-scale hydropower plants have to be shut down

The Institute for Climate Change Research has recently warned that many hydropower plants in the central region and Central Highlands are causing much devastation to the environment. What are your thoughts on this?

It's not surprising that provinces in the central region and the Central Highlands are voicing opinions against small hydropower plants.

For such a long time, permission for the construction of these plants has been easy to obtain, without any need for supervision or strict monitoring, especially since many of the investors involved are private companies and pay little attention to environmental protection. The Government and localities have scrapped many projects, citing low the economic benefits and high social and environmental risks. However, it will still take many years for us to fix the environmental impact of hydropower plants that are still in operation.

The Viet Nam River Network has also pointed out that not a single hydropower plant project in Quang Nam Province has completed all requirements on environmental protection. Why are these plants still allowed to operate?

This is true not just for Quang Nam Province. In other provinces, we can see the devastating effects on the environment of small hydropower plants. We have approved the construction of too many small hydropower plants without fully realising the consequences.

For example, in Gia Lai Province, there are more than 110 hydropower plants. We fear that in the near future, Ba River in Phu Yen Province could disappear to accommodate 65 reservoirs for these plants.

Compared with other provinces in the central regions, Quang Nam takes the lead with 62 approved projects, including 47 currently undergoing construction.

Many of these projects pose alarming risks to the environment and could affect the lives of thousands of residents.

We've seen that the lives of residents remain difficult in places with hydropower plants. Why is this happening?

Hydropower plants destroy forests. There is no doubt about it. If you destroy it, you must replant it. However, many of the privately-funded hydropower plants do not have enough funding.

The investors mostly borrow money and claim that they do not have money to replant forests. We have suggested that the Government stop approving the construction of small hydropower plants. Otherwise, the consequences can be deadly, especially during the rainy season.

Generating livelihood and replanting forests are also huge long-term tasks. Many of the hydropower plants were approved by local authorities and not by the Government or the Trade Ministry. These were done without any long-term planning.

Now, the localities have realised the consequences. Thousands of billions of dong were invested in many of these plants, and it's difficult to determine how these projects should be stopped.

The Government has instructed localities to continue assessing hydropower plants in their areas. These plants must be reassessed for their risks, and investors must be requested to invest in replanting forests. In areas that require land to accommodate residents, local authorities must also provide land and funding for the proper relocation of residents. If investors don't follow these requirements, they must be stopped and subjected to financial punishments. We need strong measures to ensure that investors abide by all of their commitments before their projects are approved.

All of these measures must be forcefully carried out. We can't let the residents bear the consequences alone. — VNS

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