Media Highlights

Hydropower lucre hides major fault lines

The controversy over the flawed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) done for the Song Tranh Dam, now blamed for causing many tremors and quakes in the central province of Quang Nam since last November, has exposed major problems in the assessment and approval process of such projects.

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Viet Nam loses ‘green’ image

Viet Nam was enduring adverse affects to the environment after 25 years of economic development, said environmental experts.

The comment was made at a recent workshop on harmonising economic development and environmental protection held in the northern province of Ninh Binh by PanNature, a non-profit organisation focused on bio-diversity conservation.

The seminar aimed to create a floor for scientists and experts to raise opinions about the environment.

Photo: PanNature.

Dr Nguyen The Chinh, deputy head of the Institute of Natural Resources and Environment Strategy and Policy Planning, pointed out that Viet Nam was using more natural resources to reach its economic targets.

Chinh made a comparison that if GDP growth in 1990 was at level 1, it had climbed to level 3.5 in 17 years. However, water and power consumption doubled while land usage increased by 1.5 times.

Statistics from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment revealed that from 2002-09, the country lost 1,000ha of mangrove forests each year.

Worse still, the legacy of fast developing cities and provinces left a shortage of suitable waste water treatment in residential areas, industrial zones and craft villages.

Solid waste also was not collected and processed properly.

Dr Nguyen Manh Ha from Ha Noi National University’s Centre for Natural Resources and Environment Research said that Viet Nam used to be known as a small country with diversified biology, but now it was known for environmental damage.

According to Ha, police confiscated 23 tonnes of ivory, 100 tonnes of pangolin, and more than 100kg of rhino horn between 2007-11.

He also expressed his concerns over the construction of hydroelectric power plants which he blamed for the disappearance of many forests and wild animals.

To Xuan Phuc from the US-based Forest Trends said that forest protection was also an issue since Viet Nam was one of leading exporters of timber and wooden products. His figures showed that each year, Viet Nam exported 5-6million cubic metres of timber.

In addition, Phuc considered Vietnamese people’s habit of using wooden products another threat to the country’s forests.

Most participants shared the view that assessing the environmental impacts of a project was vital to protecting it. However, Nguyen Khac Kinh, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Association for Environment Impact Assessment, admitted the work had not been taken seriously.

He also criticised a policy that permitted investors to hire a company to appraise their projects.

“It’s understandable that investors will hire companies that will provide them with a ‘green’ report,” he said.

Source: Vietnam News

Eco experts back ‘green economy’

The rapid industrialisation and economic development of Viet Nam over the last 25 years has created a negative impact on the environment according to Nguyen The Chinh, deputy director of the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources.

Chinh made the statement in an appearance at a one-day workshop titled “Harmonising Economic Development and Environment Protection in Viet Nam: Practice and Policy Challenges”.

Journalists and policy researchers share their views. Photo: PanNature.

He said that the development process led to problems with the ecosystem and that climate change will hugely affect Viet Nam, and added that solutions must be sought that improve the situation without compromising the economic growth rate.

Those present at the workshop, including 20 researchers and 50 representatives from the United Nations Development Programme, the Asia Foundation and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Development, and NGOs discussed methods to both develop the economy effectively and protect the environment across the country.

Chinh drew attention to efforts already being made, particularly in rural areas, to find methods that combine environmental protection with macro economic development.

He also gave his backing to the green economy scale, a fiscal proposal recently submitted to the Prime Minister, which prioritises spending for sustainable growth, social welfare and environmental protection.

But he admitted that this new model scale faces challenges if it is to be imposed. “Before we can approach a new green economy scale we must establish a whole new economic growth model. Its main tasks should be ecosystem restoration and the establishment of a low-carbon society establishment,” the deputy director said.

Workshop participants visit the Van Long Nature Reserve, where local communities
take part in ecotourism activities and conservation of natural resources. Photo: PanNature.

Participants discussed measures that would be needed if the scale is enforced. These include raising awareness, investing in modern technologies, reforming the tax system and committing two per cent of the annual state budget to ecosystem restoration.

Source: VietnamNews

 * The workshop “Harmonising Economic Development and Environment Protection in Viet Nam: Practice and Policy Challenges” was organized by PanNature with generous financial support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF).

Introducing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in mining and quarrying industry

A workshop on “Introduction of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)”, co-organized by the Consultancy on Development (CODE) and the Centre for People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) has taken place in Hanoi.

The workshop was attended by numerous experts and management from the National Assembly (NA) Committee on Science, Technology and Environment, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Vietnam Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the US’s Revenue Watch Institute.

Photo: PanNature.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Doctor Vo Nhan Tuan, Vice Chairman of the NA Committee on Science, Technology and Environment said that the implementation of EITI in Vietnam may meet some difficulties, such as the actually implementing in reality. Therefore, the workshop offered opportunities to have information and international material as well as propose specific solutions for real circunstances in a country promoting the value of the mineral ore industry in economic growth.

Almost all delegates in the workshop agreed that the participation of EITI could be a good tool which helps Vietnam concretize its policies on the real situation as the EITI itself is a solution for a more transparent environment in the mineral exploitation industry.

EITI is a volunteer coalition initiative amongst the government, companies, local civil society organisations and international organisations aiming to enhance transparency and accountability in the extractive industry. To date, there are 35 EITI implementing countries around the world. The EITI is also widely supported by extractive companies and the civil society organisations. So far, there are 50 top international extractive companies and hundreds of the civil society organisations and mining associations.

Vietnam has a variety of mineral resources with over 60 types of minerals in 5,000 ore deposits. Some are substantial reserves at world and regional levels, such as bauxite, titanium, rare earth and limestone. Some are potential reserves, like coal with more than 210 billion tonnes and iron with 3.5 billion tonnes

Sustainable development as well as transparency in Vietnam’s mineral ore industry in the development and integration process with the world’s mine ores industry is an important requirement for the development process. Vietnam is targeting to build and develop it’s exploitation industry and mineral resource processing with modern technology and eco-friendliness in order to ensure sustainable development, and meet the local demand for consumption and export for a long time.

Although, Vietnam has had access to the EITI since 2007, the research process and the building of participation steps for Vietnam previously stopped at the first step.

Source: CPV Online

Laws still cannot help protect the forests

Though Vietnam has a close legal framework on protecting forests and wildlife, the laws seem unhelpful. Green forests still have been devastated, while wild animals still have been killed.

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Fresh water shortage threatens sustainable development

Vietnam could face a fresh water crisis because of poor resource management, a new report says.

It says the problem could be exacerbated by the fact that most of its rivers originate in neighboring countries who could build upstream dams and block their natural flow.

The report was released on May 29 by People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) an environmental non-profit organization.

Photo courtesy of PanNature.

 Vietnam has an availability of 830-840 billion cubic meters of freshwater per year on average, including surface and ground water, the report says.

Up to 63 percent of this volume is sourced from neighboring countries. The remaining water availability is around 4,000 cubic meters per person, which could fall to 3,100 cubic meters by 2025.

If the rivers’ upstream countries do not allow fair share and reasonable use of water resources in transnational rivers, Vietnam will face a certain shortage of water.

“It could lead to a freshwater crisis that could threaten sustainable socio-economic growth and food security,” the report says.

It notes that although Vietnam does not belong to the group of countries facing a serious water shortage at present, water availability varies regionally within the country.

The worst water conditions are reported in the provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and the northern mountainous regions.

Meanwhile, climate change has altered the courses of the rivers and changed rainfall patterns in the south-central and southwest regions.

Due to rapid increase in demand, underground water levels in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have fallen by a meter per year on average. The situation is no better in the Central Highlands due to overexploitation of resources for irrigation of coffee plants and other crops.

Availability of fresh water derived from river basins has declined due to high agricultural and industrial usage and high levels of pollution.

Deforestation, mining and infrastructure development have degraded water quality, the report says.

The report’s authors propose the establishment and empowerment of river basin commissions to ensure better use of fresh water resources in the country.

Source: Thanh Nien News

Industrial polluters get a pass

Farmers continue to bear the brunt of environmental damage, protected poorly by toothless regulations.

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Energy companies pledge to measure impacts of large dam projects

Critics say new scorecard to evaluate social and environmental impacts of hydropower projects serves dam builders not local communities.

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Crucial Meeting Tomorrow on Laos’s Xayaburi Dam

Wide-ranging coalition calls for the dam to be cancelled.

A crucial meeting takes place tomorrow in Siem Reap, Cambodia, among the ministers of the Mekong River Commission on whether to proceed with the US$3.5 billion Xayaburi Dam, the first of 11 large dams proposed for the Mekong River.

The dam is opposed by a wide range of NGOs, civil society groups and others who have serious concerns that the dam and its 10 mates will do irrevocable damage to the ecosystem and harm the livelihood of the 60 million people who live in the Mekong River Basin.

The Save the Mekong Coalition, an umbrella group comprised of 39 organizations as well as artists, fishermen, farmers and others, has collected petitions signed by nearly 50,000 people calling on the Thai and Laotian prime ministers to cancel their plans to build the dam. The electricity produced – as much as 1,220 Megawatts — is slated to be purchased by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand.

The Mekong River Commission is composed of officials from the governments of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. Both Cambodia and Vietnam have raised concerns about the project, warning that environmental damage could ensue.

As the first Mekong mainstream dam to undergo the commission’s prior consultation process, the Xayaburi Dam is likely to set a precedent for how future decisions are made on the 10 other proposed mainstream dams, Save the Rivers noted.

According to the rules of the regional consultation process, the Laotian government must respond to requests for information and must wait for the governments to reach a consensus on whether the project goes forward.

It is questionable whether the protesters have the horsepower to get the dam cancelled. If it were, it would be the second major dam to be blocked in Southeast Asia. The first, totally unexpectedly, was the Myitsone Dam being planned for the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, which was the first concrete indication that the civilian government installed last November was listening to the wishes of its citizens. The cancellation resulted in consternation in China, which was building the structure and planned to take 80 percent of the electricity.

With Laos, however, it’s a different story. The government regards expansion of hydropower and sale across the region to surrounding energy-hungry economies as a tradeoff to increase the poverty-stricken country’s revenues and help to electrify and provide infrastructure for rural parts of the country, which currently are without power.

Environmentalists say the Laotian government isn’t waiting for the Mekong River Commission’s decision. Preparatory work has already begun at the dam site, they say.

“Our message is simple,” said Chhith Sam Ath of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, in a prepared release. “Protecting the Mekong River is vital to ensuring healthy fisheries, abundant agriculture, and supporting the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in the region. As the first hydropower dam proposed for the Mekong River’s mainstream, the dam’s devastating impacts to river’s ecosystem, fisheries, and river-based livelihoods is likely to lead to serious cross-border conflict.”

The project is backed by a flock of major Thai banks and construction companies, particularly Ch. Karnchang, Thailand’s second-largest construction company, which has contracted to build it. Thailand, like most of the growing economies of Asia, is energy-short and sees the Xayaburi Dam as a partial solution to its problems.

The Vietnam National Mekong River Committee, however, is warning that the completed dam could cause a potential decline of 200,000 to 400,000 tons of fish per year as spawning grounds are cut off.

In an effort to influence the commission, the Save the Mekong coalition published three full-page advisements in the Bangkok Post, Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily newspapers, calling on the Prime Ministers of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to reject the proposal to build the dam.

“Numerous scientific reports over the past two years have revealed the risky nature of damming the Mekong River. In view of this mounting evidence, rather than gamble with our future, the Council should lead the region towards a new vision for the river and the region, and carefully reconsider plans to build the mainstream dams” said Trinh Le Nguyen of Vietnam’s People and Nature Reconciliation.

“The Mekong River’s rich resources and the ecosystem services it provides risk passing the point of collapse if the Xayaburi Dam and other mainstream dams are allowed to proceed. It is time for our governments to intervene and ask Laos to cancel plans to build the Xayaburi Dam and for Thailand to refuse to purchase its electricity, so that we still have fish left for the future,” said Ittipol Komesuk, Coordinator of Thailand’s Network of Thai People in eight Mekong Provinces.

“Over the last year, the Xayaburi Dam has divided governments and people,” said Srisuwan Kuankachorn of Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance. “We urge regional leaders to take a precautionary approach by issuing a resolution calling for the cancellation of the Xayaburi Dam. In the end, it’s not a technical decision, but a political decision that will reshape politics in this tiny but problematic region of the world.”

Source: Asia Sentinel

Fuelled by Forests

The past 20 years in Vietnam have been remarkable. The economy has expanded by an average of 7 percent annually since the mid-1990s and according to the Vietnam Development Report 2011, “poverty has fallen drastically from 60 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2008”. In 2009, Vietnam was reclassified as a “lower-middle-income country”. But much of the economic expansion and inertia has been fueled by the use of domestic natural resources.

With its diverse topography and climates, Vietnam is home to 10 percent of the world’s vertebrate species and an incredible amount of biodiversity for a country that takes up only about one percent of the globe’s land mass. But forest cover nationally has dropped from 43 percent in 1943 to about 27 percent in 1990. As of 2009, the number rebounded to 40 percent, which is largely a result of investments in plantations. However, as IUCN’s Brunner puts it, “the area of quality forest is probably only five percent of total forest cover”.

Photo: PanNature.

Along with quality forests, Vietnam’s tiger population has also been wiped out and few believe the remaining roaming elephants will last much longer. Endemic species including the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, the saola and the Siamese crocodile are all dangling precariously on the brink of extinction. There have been signs of success, albeit limited to projects where there’s been long term foreign presence focusing on a restricted range species, like primates, or with captive breeding programmes such as at the Cuc Phuong Turtle Conservation Centre.

“Vietnam has five of the 25 most endangered higher primates in the world. Just by knowing that you and your country have five particularly special primates is a great honour,” says Potess. “The Vietnamese population has to jump on the wagon and say ‘Yes! We are losing our national heritage.”

As of 2010, Vietnam was ranked 85 among 163 countries with respect to its environmental performance index, which measures countries’ “performance level relative to their established environmental policies targets”.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the country’s huge depletion of its fauna and flora. Vast amounts of money are put into conservation efforts in Vietnam and about 15 percent of the country is classified as protected. According to Brunner, on a hectare basis, spending on Vietnam’s protected areas is among the highest in the world. But throwing money at a problem doesn’t appear to solve everything. Enormous projects funded by international donors are often inflexible. Policies often look good on paper, but enforcement at the ground level and park management is often ineffective. Throw into the mix that Asia’s economic rise has lead to the expansion of wildlife trafficking that feeds traditional medicine and culinary markets domestically and abroad, and it becomes clear that more is needed than good top-down intentions.

The nascent, but growing, domestic NGO sector will be a pivotal factor in Vietnam’s green future. While international NGOs are often instrumental in securing large funds for domestic projects, it’s the local organisations that are able to nurture vital grassroots movements and start dialogue at the official and communal level that are instrumental to any type of sustainable change.

“More organisations are emerging because now the registration process is quite easy and open,” says People and Nature Reconciliation’s executive director Trinh Le Nguyen. “Now it’s a matter of how to survive and how to actually do work and carry on [with] the mission of the organisation.”

At People and Nature Reconciliation, Nguyen and the 25 full-time staff members are instituting a multi-pronged, holistic strategy to protect the country’s biodiversity. Tasks include a news website, a nationally published policy review, managing field projects and hosting roundtable discussions with policymakers and Vietnamese think tanks.

“When we started, we needed a lot of capacity building and support from international groups,” says Nguyen. “In the future, we hope more domestic philanthropy organisations will look at the environment and conservation issues.”

While Nguyen admits the task at hand is enormous, he has hopes that greener days await in the future. Attendance from policymakers at their forums and roundtable discussions is on the rise. As the country’s middle class expands, Nguyen says young people are increasingly looking at ways to get involved and are concerned with the country’s environmental health.

Source: Word Hanoi

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