Media Highlights

The thirst for hydropower plants devastating living environment

People are trying to build more and more hydropower plants to satisfy their thirst for power. However, when power plants are set up, the environment gets degrading and the tourism industry cannot develop.

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World Bank team observes wildlife trade first-hand

While the authorities, international and local wildlife protection organizations are making every effort to carry out campaigns, protect, and conserve rare wildlife species; across the country, many wild animals are killed every day and those stores trading in wildlife products that are still operating freely and beyond the law.

At the roundabout in the centre of Cho Ra town, Ba Be, Bac Kan Province, a few steps away from Ba Be district’s bus station, there is a store specializing in trading of products made from rare wild animals such as bear, cobra, pangolins, monitor lizards, and deer. Locals said that the store has existed for many years, meeting customers’ demands for meat products from wildlife, medicinal wine jars containing wildlife.

The store owner advertises that: “If you want wildlife meat, for example, porcupine, deer, civets and birds, any kind is available. They are all taken from Ba Be forest.”

At the store, we found a lot of wildlife in wine jars, for example, heads and limbs of bears, cobra, and deer stomachs. In addition, bone balm from various wild animals is also traded openly here.

How can such a store trading products from protected wildlife exist in the centre of Ba Be District and operate freely and beyond the law?

The following photographs were taken at the store by ThienNhien.Net.

Original article in Vietnamese can be read on ThienNhien.Net. Translation into English: World Bank Vietnam. The English translation was published on the Babbler No.38.

NOTE: These photos were taken during the trip of PanNature and WB/CEPF supervision mission team to Ba Be.

Cat Tien environmental assessment full of holes: experts

With hydropower running amok in this country, local critics of neighboring dam projects are throwing stones in a glass house.

A view of the Cat Tien National Park, where two planned hydropower projects, if built, would encroach on around 140 hectares of forest. Conservationists fear that the two planned dams would totally transform the aquatic environments in the park, which straddles Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc and Lam Dong provinces.

A group of scientists who recently visited the site of two upcoming hydropower projects near Cat Tien National Park said they suspected that the projects’ developer was being disingenuous in a recent environmental assessment report which concluded that the impact would be minimal.

The report contained factual errors and downplayed the ecological and environmental risks of the two projects, scientists at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology’s Institute of Tropical Biology said after their one-week trip.

The fact that the project investor, Duc Long Gia Lai Group, funded the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report is considered normal by experts in the field. But the scientists are concerned that the developer has failed to be transparent in its report and has so far gotten away without any meaningful public scrutiny.

“It is a normal… procedure for the developer or project proponent to prepare the EIA… But this approach requires a rigorous public and expert review process prior to finalizing the document to ensure that it is objective and of the highest standard,” said Jeremy Carew-Reid, director the environmental NGO International Center for Environmental Management (ICEM).

“In Vietnam, that opportunity for public input and independent expert review is very limited.”

Trinh Le Nguyen, executive director of Vietnamese environmental nonprofit People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), said legal loopholes have allowed the dam developers to directly select and contract the teams tasked with carrying out the impact studies.

“There’s the chance for them to control the EIA process in a way favorable for their own benefits,” Nguyen said.

But the Southern Institute for Water Resources Planning claimed it had been assigned by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to conduct the EIAs of the Dong Nai 6 and Dong Nai 6A dams that, if built, would encroach on around 140 hectares of forest in the Cat Tien National Park.

Either way, the law requires more than just an EIA to be carried out for such a project.

“Most important in this case, if there is more than one dam proposed for the same river, the accumulated impacts of all of the projects should be analyzed together in a Strategic Environmental Assessment before an EIA for each particular project is done,” Carew-Reid said. “This is a requirement under the Vietnam Environmental Protection Law.”

Poor power play

Located just 160 kilometers northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, Cat Tien is home to around 1,700 precious plants, including those in the large genus of Dalbergia, and more than 700 species of animals and birds, several of which are endangered. Eleven ethnic minority groups live around the park.

After the discovery of a population of Vietnamese Javan Rhinoceros in 1992, the park was declared a Rhinoceros Reserve and received worldwide attention. The park has also been officially titled a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO.

Conservationists fear that the two planned dams would totally transform the aquatic environments in the 72,000-hectare park, which straddles Dong Nai, Binh Phuoc and Lam Dong provinces. They also expressed concerns about the livelihood of residents who live in the planned sites of the projects in Lam Dong, Dak Nong and Binh Phuoc provinces.

But in a report sent to the Prime Minister, the Agriculture Ministry said it believed that the two dam projects are “in line with the nation’s power development blueprint and vital to boosting economic growth.”

Vietnam depends on hydropower for about 37 percent of its electricity, followed by gas at 36 percent and coal at 16 percent, according to statistics from the Association of the Electricity Supply Industry of East Asia and the Western Pacific.

Conservationists have, however, cringed at the country’s continued hydropower development binge.

“For many rivers in Vietnam, hydropower is no longer a ‘clean’ and sustainable energy solution when there are too many projects built or planned in a river basin,” PanNature’s Nguyen said. “Hydropower is becoming a factor that distorts the ecosystems, natural flows, and human livelihoods.”

ICEM’s Carew-Reid acknowledged it was understandable that energy developers would promote their products and services and try and maximize development and profits in their sector.

“It is up to the government to ensure that the sector develops in a balanced way and not at the cost of other national interests,” he said. “In Vietnam, that is not happening.”

Where does the buck stop?

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has shrugged off the EIA report done by the developer, saying the fate of two projects would have to be determined by the National Assembly – Vietnam’s legislature – a move that has been welcomed by the environmentalist community.

A National Assembly resolution stated that any projects encroaching on 50 hectares that belong to nature reserves and protected forests must be submitted to the national legislature for debate and approval.

Duong Trung Quoc, a prominent lawmaker, said he would grill the government on these projects at the first session of the newly-installed National Assembly, which commenced Thursday (July 21) in Hanoi.

“But as far as I understand, the house has not set aside any time for debate on this issue at this session,” Quoc said.

Quoc said he hoped lawmakers would have a chance to debate the projects soon, saying he was also “troubled” by plans to forge ahead with the project.

“If we don’t respect and protect the ecosystem and environment of our own nation, we cannot expect other countries to do so to ours,” Quoc said.

By An Dien, Thanh Nien News

Save the Mekong Coalition Calls on ASEAN Leaders: Cancel the Xayaburi Dam

As ASEAN leaders meet for the 18th ASEAN Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Save the Mekong coalition calls on ASEAN leaders to act immediately to cancel the Xayaburi Dam in Lao PDR.

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Vietnamese Opposition Could Sway Lao Hydropower Plans

Vietnamese officials are criticizing the Lao government’s controversial plan to build a dam on the Mekong River. Analysts say opposition from Vietnam and other lower Mekong countries could force Laos to scale back its hydropower ambitions.

The $3.5 billion Xayaburi hydropower dam is the first of 12 dams planned for the lower Mekong. A Thai developer would build the dam, and Thailand would buy most of the 1,260 megawatts of electricity the dam would generate.

Lao officials say the proposed Mekong dams would cut poverty and bolster their land-locked country’s economy.

A Western construction worker surveys ongoing work to build a power plant for
the Nam Theun 2 dam, south of Vientiane, Laos. Photo: Reuters.


But Vietnamese officials say the dam would jeopardize water supplies and threaten fishing on the river’s downstream reaches. Their recent comments echoed warnings by environmentalists that the Mekong dams would damage the environment and threaten the livelihoods of people who live near the river.

Analysts say political pressure from Vietnam and its lower Mekong neighbors – Thailand and Cambodia – could force Laos to delay or modify its plans to harness the Mekong’s flow.

Philip Hirsch, a professor of human ecology at the University of Sydney, told VOA that of the lower Mekong countries, Vietnam has so far been most publicly critical of Laos’ hydropower ambitions.

“The interesting question, which I think is very difficult for anyone to answer, is how these two countries, Vietnam and Laos – which are so close – are going to extricate themselves from what at the moment seem to be diametrically opposite positions on the Xayabouri dam,” Hirsch said.

Vietnam and Laos are both one-party states and Hirsch says Vietnam typically influences Lao policy “behind closed doors.” But Hirsch says recent criticism of the Xayabouri proposal by high-ranking Vietnamese officials has been “very public.”

All four lower Mekong countries will be closely watching a recommendation on the dam expected this month from the Joint Committee of the Mekong River Commission, an advisory body formed in 1995 to promote sustainable development along the 4,900-kilometer Mekong system.


But Hirsch points out that the MRC has no power to force Laos to abandon its plans for the Xayabouri and other Mekong dams.

“The MRC is not a regulatory institution,” Hirsch added. “It’s not a strong agency in that way, it’s one which has always worked on the basis of trying to achieve consensus, and if we’re looking for regulation from the MRC, I think we’re looking in the wrong direction.”

Hirsch says Thailand has vowed to stay neutral in MRC negotiations, which puts the onus on Vietnamese and Cambodian officials to address the Xayabouri dam proposal in discussions with their Lao counterparts.

Trinh Le Nguyen is executive director of the Vietnamese NGO PanNature. He tells VOA that although Laos has final say over the Xayabouri and other Mekong dams, Vietnam may pressure Laos by threatening to not invest in future Mekong hydropower projects.

“Vietnam can decide not to invest or buy anything from [Laos],” Trinh Le Nguyen said. “It’s one of the ways they can have some power.”

In October, an independent study commissioned by the MRC recommended that lower Mekong countries delay decisions on hydropower projects for 10 years, warning that Mekong hydropower dams would exacerbate food insecurity and cause “serious and irreversible” environmental effects.

China, which borders northern Laos, already operates four dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River.

Source: Voice of America

Villages urged to prevent illegal logging

The legality of timber and wood products should be promoted to curb illegal logging, according to a meeting in Ha Noi yesterday. The conference, held by the Forest Legality Alliance (FLA) and People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature), also called for concerned agencies, including the Government, businesses and households, to ensure that only legal timber is used.

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Localising conservation in Vietnam

PanNature is trying to use wide experience, varied skills and contagious motivation to help lead a community-based movement to preserve Vietnam’s natural heritage and promote sustainable development nationwide. We interviewed Trinh Le Nguyen (TLN), the founder of the organisation on the occasion of 6th year since its establishment.

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The Battle Over the Mekong

Chinese dams threaten one of the world’s most biodiverse rivers, critics say. It’s not just environmentalists who are worried.

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Revised Law to Better Preserve Minerals

The management of the exploration and exploitation of natural resources should be strengthened to preserve valuable assets for younger generations, according to attendants of a conference in Ha Noi last week.

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Mekong conundrum: does dammed mean damned?

The roaring currents of the Mekong have long enchanted travellers, inspired explorers and sustained about 65 million people living off the world’s largest freshwater fisheries. But environmentalists warn that the “Amazon of Asia” – the river with the second-richest biodiversity in the world – is under dire threat from hydropower dams, including the latest to be proposed: the Xayaburi dam in Laos.

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