Vietnam: Na Hang dam – the reality of sustainable development?

25 Aug

One of the UNDP’s projects in Vietnam is the management of the Na Hang Nature Reserve. Forests in the Nature Reserve are being bulldozed to make way for a hydropower dam, yet UNDP remains strangely quiet.

By Chris Lang. Published in WRM Bulletin 73, August 2003.

Jordan Ryan, the head of the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam, is keen on sustainable development. In May 2002, at the launch of a partnership between aid agencies, NGOs and government ministries to protect Vietnam’s environment, Ryan announced, “If we succeed, one day it will be said of this new partnership: ‘It made sustainable development a reality in Vietnam.'”

A few weeks later, this time at the signing of a US$2 million project called Vietnam Agenda 21, Ryan said, “The challenge is to make sustainable development a reality in Vietnam.”

One of UNDP’s projects in Vietnam is called Protected Areas Resource Conservation (PARC). Funded jointly with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project covers three protected areas, including the Na Hang Nature Reserve in the north of Vietnam. The Vietnamese Government created the nature reserve in 1994, to protect the habitat of the largest population of the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey. Na Hang is one of only four sites in which the monkey is found (see WRM Bulletin 55).

In early June 2002, the Song Da Construction Corporation held a party in Na Hang to celebrate the start of construction of the Na Hang hydropower dam. The 342 MW dam will flood one of the most beautiful riverine areas in the Na Hang Nature Reserve, including pristine forest adjacent to the area where the snub-nosed monkey lives. The monkey is extremely sensitive to disturbance.

By the end of last year, the Song Da Construction Corporation had removed more than two million cubic metres of earth and rock from the construction site. A concrete bridge now spans the Gam River and the first of more than 3,300 households have been evicted to make way for the reservoir behind the dam.

PARC awarded the contract to run the Na Hang Nature Reserve to consulting firm Scott Wilson Asia-Pacific. In a preliminary environmental assessment of the dam, carried out under the PARC project, Scott Wilson wrote: “A dam at Na Hang will potentially have significant impacts on the natural resources of the area and also on the local people including both those who will be resettled and those who will remain in the area.”

Yet the PARC web-site makes no mention of the Na Hang dam. PARC’s web-site lists the threats facing the nature reserve as: “agriculture and land conversion . . . timber exploitation, wildlife hunting, and the unsustainable harvest of minor forest products.”

Conversely, some dam proponents make no mention of the Na Hang Nature Reserve while looking at the Na Hang dam. In April 1999, a consortium of consulting firms began a National Hydropower Plan Study in Vietnam with funding from the Swedish and Norwegian governments. The Na Hang dam is included in the list of dams that the consultants recommend to be built. The consultants, SWECO International (Sweden), Statkraft Engineering and Norplan (Norway), make no mention of the Na Hang Nature Reserve in their recommendations.

In a 1999 draft inception report the consultants wrote “There are no rare species specifically recorded in the project site and protected areas are apparently not very close by.” They added, “This will need to be verified. It is not possible to predict at this stage.” The consultants wrote this five years after the Vietnamese Government established the Na Hang Nature Reserve.

Although construction of the dam has started, financing of the project is still in doubt. Vietnam’s state-run Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) is to provide US$43 million towards the project costs. The government has already paid US$85 million to EVN for land clearance and resettlement.

EVN is looking to secure US$260 million through commercial loans from Vietnamese banks. A further $80 million will be needed to pay for technical equipment.

Vietnam’s banks, however, seem reluctant to fund the project. A senior executive with Vietnam Industrial and Commercial Bank told the Vietnam Investment Review, “The difficult thing is that [Vietnam’s banks] have participated in many big power projects in 2002.” A senior executive at Vietcombank commented that it was unlikely that Vietcombank would fund the project alone. “We might work with other [banks] to provide syndicated loans,” he said.

In February 2003, Dinh Quang Tri, deputy general director of EVN, said that EVN was considering asking foreign equipment suppliers to help finance the project. “We would open a bid in which the foreign-invested equipment supplier is likely to cover finances too, or EVN could use the deferred payment method,” Tri said.

The Song Da Construction Corporation is reported to be working with several international firms including Alstom (Switzerland), Shanghai Electric Corporation, DongFang Group and Harbin Group (China), Energomachexport and Technopgomexport (Russia), Siemens (Germany) and VA Tech (Austria).

In November last year, the Vietnam Economic Times reported that the French Government had agreed to a grant for the Na Hang hydropower project. The news came shortly after a visit to France by Vietnam’s President Tran Duc Luong.

At the Vietnam Agenda 21 project launch UNDP’s Jordan Ryan commented, “To have sustainable development, Viet Nam will need to answer tough questions and make hard choices.” Yet the highly paid international ‘experts’ working for UNDP, GEF, Scott Wilson, SWECO International, Statkraft Engineering and Norplan have failed even to ask tough questions about the Na Hang dam and its impact on the forests, people and wildlife of the Na Hang Nature Reserve.

Shortly after this article was published, PARC relaunched its web-site, which now refers to the Na Hang dam.

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