Mekong Utility Watch

VN seeks to learn from others’ dam mistakes

Vietnam News Agency
March 1, 2000

What is the truth about big dams?  Are what were once seen as the “temples” of development still an economically and environmentally sound option, or do they represent obsolete technology being kept alive for the wrong reasons?

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) last weekend reaped a rich harvest of ideas, facts and arguments to help its deliberations on large dams and their alternatives at its regional consultation for East and Southeast Asia in Haø Noäi.

But, cautioned Dr. Lakshmi Jain, vice chair of the commission in his concluding remarks, the WCD will not have the last word on the issue when it submits its final report later this year.  He said the aim of the commission was to take the issue a step forward into sustainable management of development of water resources.

Addressing the consultation, Phaïm Hoàng Giang, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said Vieät Nam will invest in upgrading the existing network of dams and reservoirs, aiming at increasing safety and operational efficiency.

The country has planned to build a number of multipurpose dams and reservoirs while minimising their adverse social and environmental impacts, he said.

He also called for international co-operation and assistance, particularly technical assistance for the development of dams and irrigation networks in Vieät Nam.

The two-day debate began with presentations by Vietnamese scientists and experts on various aspects of the issue including: responding to competing needs in the planning process; the challenge of balancing needs, benefits and costs of large dams; exploiting the country’s hydropower potential; and resettlement and rehabilitation for project affected people.

The presenters said Vieät Nam is looking to learn from its own experiences and that of other countries in power generation, irrigation, flood control, and in dealing with problems of drought and excessive salination of arable land.

“We are aware of the negative impacts of high dams and large reservoirs, but have not found the appropriate way to replace these constructions,” said Leâ Thaïc Caùn of the Vieät Nam Environment and Sustainable Development Centre.

“The earth is our common house. Natural resources are not endless, but they are now being over-exploited.

We need to study and assess project impacts and influences carefully. No less important is people’s participation in project designing and construction,” said Nguyeãn Ñình Hoaø, an officer from the mountainous Töông Döông District in central Ngheä An Province.

Selection of options should take full account of alternative power generation possibilities and socio-environmental concerns; and study visits to comparable project sites by representatives of project affected people should be made a standard, said Vuõ Thò Hoàng Anh of Oxfam Hong Kong in Vieät Nam.

The development of the Mekong region was the focus of many presentations at the consultation.

Dr. Hiroshi Hori, former chair of the Mekong Development and Environment Committee of the Japanese International Co-operation Agency said projects proposed should address the true needs of communities in the region, be flexible, and ensure transparency “from start to finish.”

Michael Bristol, an expert from the Asian Development Bank, a major sponsor of the consultation, said that the bank had “an open mind on large dam developments” and will continue to consider requests for financial support based on its (the ADB’s) economic, social and environmental standards.

But Grainne Ryder, director of Toronto-based Probe International, said technological advances have made it possible to generate electricity on a small scale at lower costs.

She highlighted the advances made in cogeneration – where heat and electricity are produced simultaneously from the same fuel source – increased the efficiency of fuel burning from 30 to 90 per cent.

She said such systems, especially those using combining gas and coal have proved highly successful in industrialised countries, and would be suitable for the Mekong region with its rich reserves of natural gas.

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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