Hydropower Plant Development in Viet Nam’s Central Zone and Central Highlands: a Trade-off

Hydropower Plant Development in Viet Nam’s Central Zone and Central Highlands: a Trade-off

Viet Nam - 12 December, 2016

Despite being a major source of electricity for daily use and production activities, excessive hydropower plant development in the Central zone and Central Highlands of Viet Nam has created adverse social-environmental impacts and on local people’s livelihoods. The main issues include ineffective planning, lack of proper monitoring of the implementation, and unsolved problems regarding compensation and resettlement for affected people. Those were the main conclusions drawn during the workshop “Sustainable Hydropower Plants Development in Viet Nam’s Central Zone and Central Highlands” jointly organized by Tropenbos International Viet Nam (TBI Viet Nam), the Centre for Social Research and Development (CSRD), the Da Nang Union of Science and Technology Associations, and the Viet Nam Rivers Network (VRN) on 6 December 2016 in Da Nang city.

The workshop was a multi-stakeholder dialogue with more than 80 representatives from state agencies, hydropower enterprises, research institutes, women’s unions, district people’s committees and local communities from the provinces of Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Nam, Dak Lak, and Dak Nong.

The workshop presentations focused on: the impacts of hydropower development on local communities; socio-economic aspects/activities post-resettlement for affected people; hydropower development and integrated management of the Vu Gia-Thu Bon rivers basin (Quang Nam province); and reforestation as compensation mechanism for forestland lost due to hydropower plants development.

The participants pointed out numerous consequences arising from massive hydropower development during recent years, including: unexpected floods and droughts; river bank erosion due to changes in water flow regimes and inappropriate water retention and release; infertile soil in downstream areas; forest loss and degradation due to a shortage of arable land; social instability caused by prolonged resettlement programmes and delayed compensation payments; and poor houses and public works (hospitals and schools) provided.

During the discussions, it was highlighted that ineffective planning is the primary cause for most of the problems. Insufficient involvement of local people in the planning process has kept them from understanding their rights and the potential impacts of hydropower plants. Therefore, they could not adapt to new living conditions nor seek alternative solutions for their livelihoods. This is especially true for households whose daily food depend on rivers as hydropower plants do not release enough water during the dry season, making rivers’ water extremely low to support fish.

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Participants also pointed out that several hydropower plants lacked a comprehensive socio-economic and environmental impact assessment. They suggest making environmental management plans based on environmental impact assessments every five years to control and minimize negative impacts from hydropower development.

Sharing TBI Viet Nam’s research findings, Mr. Tran Huu Nghi, TBI Viet Nam director, indicated that since 2006 around 386,000 hectares of forestlands have been converted for other land use purposes, including hydropower plant development. This means that 68,000 ha of forestlands need reforestation under hydropower projects. However, less than 44% of such area has been reforested in plantations (29,920 hectares). For the case of Quang Nam province, about 1,389 ha of forest was lost due to hydropower plant development, and around 9,293 ha of forest were logged down to make ways for crop cultivation areas and resettlement programmes. Still, by the end of 2014, only 24 out of 700 ha of forest in Quang Nam province had been planted (equivalent to 3.4% of the plan). The decrease in natural forest area meant reduced capacity for water capture by forests. Mr. Nghi stressed the necessity of monitoring and rewarding reforestation as well as timely evaluation of the impacts from hydropower plants in the Central zone and Central Highlands. Explaining the slow rate of reforestation, Mr. Nghi indicated that this was due to the fact that investors in hydropower projects did not provide sufficient funds for tree planting in their budgets, worsened by the delay in policy-making by the national government.

The ideas contributed at the workshop created a comprehensive look at the costs and benefits of hydropower development in Viet Nam in recent years. TBI Viet Nam will use those discussion results to formulate policy recommendations which will be brought forward to a national forum to be organized in the near future.  

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