Socio- economic development, urbanisation pressures Vietnam's rivers of life
  • | | December 29, 2009 10:35 AM

Socio-economic development and urbanisation exert more and more pressure on Vietmam's river systems every day, as national stakeholders too fail to co-ordinate their conservation efforts, according to the Vietnam news agency (VNA).

Thi Vai River  

As urbanisation increases and industrial parks are being built almost everywhere, the rivers condition has become an increasingly public concern, as well as topics of many environment conferences.

There was a claim saying that conferences attended by scientists are not attended by government officials, who do not have a single clue what transpired at the conferences, for them to make policy change to conserve the nation's rivers.

According to the Vietnam news agency's report, the government agencies, to some extent, have made many attempts to prevent the damage to rivers by industrial factories.

However, their effectiveness is limited because at the same time there are investment assessments for more industrial projects underway along the river.

The agencies do not know how to proceed with big pollution cases such as when the monosodium glutamate producer Vedan polluted the Thi Vai River.

"Rivers are vital to the environment and human life" was the message from a conference on the health of rivers and the work to protect river basins held in late October at southern Dong Nai Province's Cat Tien National Park.

More than 65 attendants, including environmentalists, scientists, low-ranking Government officials and NGOs agreed that it was necessary to establish a national action plan for protecting the country's river networks.

But they could not reach a workable consensus on what to do.

"I agree with the framework we together set up today, but my question is that who will fund us to carry out the work, including funds for research," said Ky Quang Vinh, director of Can Tho City's natural resources and environment monitoring and survey centre.

Dao Viet Nga, director of the Viet Nam River Network (VRN), said the stakeholders were still struggling to connect with each other and share information when action was needed on particular water pollution cases.

Nga recommended opening the VRN network in the south since it only had members in the north.

The acting alone matter was illustrated by Nguyen Son Phong of the Southern Institution for Irrigation Planning, who said:"The VRN was set up in 2005 but we know nothing about its existence and its function."

The institution is a governmental agency working on the protection of the Dong Nai River basin - the country's largest river basin, assigned by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment since 2003.

Dr Le Phat Quoi of HCM City National University's Institute for Natural Resources and Environment said it was crucial for the public and Government to value scientific research for action to be taken.

Quoi said: "The first step is to create a firm base with accurate scientific evidence and a plan, the next is to call for participation of public and related agencies and then suggest changes in constitution and policy for environmental matters."

PanNature, an international NGO working in Viet Nam, said though Vietnamese laws complied with the world in recognising the principle that polluters had to pay for their pollution, Government agencies had troubles fining polluters since there were no precedents in the country.

PanNature released a statements on December 18 as it introduced a paper titled "Right to sue for compensation of environmental pollution: legal base and procedures", which was developed by Ha Noi University of Law's Dr Vu Thu Hanh and Dr Tran Anh Tuan.

The paper used the Vedan and Thi Vai River case as its case study as it is considered to be the best illustration of a need for legal actions against a polluter.

The researchers aimed to provide details on how the authorities could penalise the company.

"Methodology to fulfil a case of pollution is not just compensation of damages to people and environment, but it must show a scientific and legal base to fine the polluters," PanNature said.

Tran Van Tu, deputy chairman of Can Tho City's Association of Technology and Science Unions, said it might be late but scientists were still responsible for saving the rivers.

Dr Duong Van Ni of Can Tho University said that if Government leaders were not informed of scientists' findings, their research was useless.

The VRN on November 12 set up its southern office in HCM City aiming to create a more co-ordinated national team of scientists and researchers for river conservation but they still need to involve all stakeholders if they are to make a difference.