VietNamNet Bridge 28 Aug 09
Exploitation of sand – vital to the construction industry -- has become a problem on all the Vietnam’s largest rivers. The Vietnamese press unanimously reports that unregulated exploitation of alluvial sand is a national problem that demands a national solution.
In this story, VietNamNet Bridge surveys and summarizes reportage from Vietnam’s leading newspapers and expert sources to report a national environmental catastrophe.
In the north: an eroded Red River
Many sections of the banks of the Red River, the northern Vietnam’s largest river, are being eroded. Since October 2006, over 20 houses in Ngoc Thuy ward alone of Hanoi’s Long Bien district have fallen into the river because of landslides. Local residents said landslides have suddenly become serious in the last two years.
Traveling along the Red River from Lao Cai on the border with China past the cities of Yen Bai, Phu Tho, Ha Tay, Hanoi, Thai Binh and Nam Dinh, one can see that landslides are alarming. Hundreds of houses and gardens have been swallowed by the river.
Do Ngoc Thien, deputy director of the Dike Management Agency (a unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development), said that sand dredging is an important cause of landslides along the Red River banks. According to Thien, illegal dredging of sand and gravel from the river not only makes landslides on the spot but also causes change in the river’s course, causing landslides to other places that are far from the sand deposits.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Ha Tay province, the Red and Da rivers flow for 105 kilometers through the province. The government has allocated hundreds of billions of dong to the province to deal with landslides. Early this year, the provinces received an additional 30 billion for this task, yet the landslides is get worse and worse.
Why is this? Experts say that the landslides now are different from previous years. In the past, the bank was eroded gradually. These days, large chunks of land suddenly fall to the river. It means that big holes have appeared under the bank and these holes are caused by sand dredges.
Hundreds of sand dredge sites are running along the Red River, from Hanoi to Ha Tay, Phu Tho, Yen Bai, Nam Dinh and Thai Binh. Many of them are illegal. Also, hundreds of sand sucking boats are working along the river. Many boats place suck sand from sites only twenty to thirty meters from the bank. Many sections of dikes have become ‘sand warehouses.’
Do Ngoc Thien from the Dike Management Department said that there are many reasons for landslides along the Red River bank but the biggest reason is illegal sand dredging.
Thien said illegal operators violate all rules on sand dredging. They suck sand deeply from the river bed and even from alluvial sites, causing big holes under the banks.
Thien noted that sand dredges can impact water flows so even the places that are protected by embankments and dikes can suffer from landslides. Thus the Government will have to invest billions of dong annually to repair and upgrade the river dikes.
National Assembly deputies mentioned the serious landslides along the Red River, calling them a threat the life and livelihood of the people who live along the river, at the legislature’s session in June.
Not only the Red River is threatened by illegal sand dredging. Other big rivers in the north are in a similar situation, including the Day, the Thai Binh, the Cau, and the Dao in Nam Dinh province
In Central Vietnam, the fabled ‘Perfume River’ is bleeding
The Huong, or Perfume, River, an icon of the ancient capital city of Hue, is also suffering from illegal sand dredging. The dredging began around four years ago. Now it takes place both day and night, particularly near the villages of Thuy Bang, Huong Tho, Phu Thanh, Phu Mau, Huong Vinh and Huong Phong. Hundreds of big vessels, barges and small boats are busy all day seven days a week transporting sand from the dredging sites. During the high season for construction, from April to July, hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sand are exploited from the Huong River.
Because of sand exploitation, nearly 5km of the bank of Huong River have been eroded, threatening the life of hundreds of families and many dikes, construction works and especially some historic sites on the shores of the river.
Minh Mang Road, a thoroughfare for tourists that connects the tombs of Kings Minh Mang, Thieu Tri and Gia Long, has been harmed since 2003 after six sand dredging enterprises were located along the road. So, according to local press reports, are tourism activities at the Hon Chen Temples and the Thien Mu Pagoda, two famous tourist sites in Hue City.
Tran Khanh Vy, a Vietnamese-Australian tourist, commented after visiting Hon Chen Palace that “Sand dredging here seems to be very random. I see no sign that marks the sand pits but many barges work near Hon Chen. Even the sound from these barges annoys tourists a lot”.
Local residents have tried to stop sand exploiters but they have failed. Even local police can’t stop them.
The Thua Thien – Hue People’s Committee in 2001 issued regulations on sand dredging that permit exploitation of sand found thirty to fifty meters from the banks of rivers. Specifically on the Huong River, the work must be at least 50 meters from the riverbanks, at least 100 meters from dikes and water drainage and bridges and at least 500 meters from historical sites. The regulations are ignored; sand miners dredge sand at the distance of 10 meters from the banks everywhere.
According to the local media, sand dredging is also rampant in many other rivers in the central region and Central Highlands, such as the Ma River in Thanh Hoa province, Ngan Pho River in Ha Tinh province, Thach Han River in Quang Tri province, Vinh River in Da Nang City, Ha Thanh river in Binh Dinh province, the Lam and Hieu rivers in Nghe An province, the Tra Khuc, Tra bong and Ve rivers in Quang Ngai provinces, Krong Ana and Krong Pack rivers in Dak Lak province, Cai River in Nha Trang city, Khanh Hoa province
In the south, the Dong Nai and Cuu Long rivers also harmed by sand dredging
The Dong Nai, the second largest river in southern Vietnam, runs for 800 kilometers through 12 provinces and cities. It is also a victim of sand miners. Sand has been mined for several years in the river’s upper sections, the section crossing the Central Highlands provinces of Lam Dong, Binh Phuoc and Dong Nai, seriously impacting the water environment and the ecological system of the Cat Tien National Park.
Local authorities have granted sand dredging licenses to dozens of companies and set specific conditions on their operation, but nobody actually controls them. Most dredgers exploit sand exceeding their license and violate the rules.
Not surprisingly, just like Hanoi’s Red River and Hue’s River Huong, the banks of the Dong Nai river are being eroded. More seriously, sand dredge activities are harming 90 kilometers of river bank in Cat Tien National Park. The park has asked the local government to deal with this situation but it has not received the local authorities’ warm feedback.
The Dong Nai River Commission says that this river is being polluted and the pollution gets worse from the upstream to the downstream while the harm to biodiversity increases from the downstream to the upstream. One of the major reasons is sand dredge.
The commission said that the profit that Lam Dong authorities earn from sand miners (around 5 million dong per month from a company) is minor to the consequences caused by sand dredge to the Dong Nai river and the Cat Tien National Park.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Vietnam last year reported that landslides along the Dong Nai river is getting serious, particularly the section in Lam Dong province, where sand dredging is uncontrolled. Landslide causes losses worth dozens of billions of dong for Lam Dong.
Sand dredging has recently developed in the section that crosses Dong Nai province, serving the demand for sand from HCM City and industrial zones and new residential urban developing projects.
Other big rivers in the southern region are being harmed by sand dredging, including the Saigon River in HCM City, the Co Chien River in Vinh Long province, the Tien and Hau, or upper and lowerbranches of the Mekong River, particularly the sections near Can Tho city and in Dong Thap province and Vinh Long province. In this region, the situation has become critical as production expands to serve Singapore’s need for sand from Vietnam following Cambodia’s embargo on sand exports in May.
In Vinh Long province, over 500 landslides are recorded, totaling 10 km of river bank threatening nearly 5000 familes. The local government planw to build 25 resettlement areas from 2010 to 2015 to host 1720 families who have lost their houses by landslide. Vinh Long and Can Tho have had to invest dozens of billion dong to build dikes.
In recent years, over 30 people in the Mekong Delta have been reported to die because of landslides; five streets, six villages and thousands of houses have been swept away.
What are local authorities doing?
Despite the Vietnamese media’s continuous reports of illegal sand dredging activity and its impacts to rivers and people, the situation has not improved.
All local governments claim they have tried but they cannot stop illegal sand miners. They lack equipment and personnel for this task, they say, and the profit from dredging and selling sand is high. In some localities, it is reported that illegal sand miners threaten any inspectors who turn up, and attack local people who protest their activities.
In some locations, local authorities are willing to “compromise” with sand miners by collecting small fees from them. These officials explain that the local market needs construction materials so it is necessary to allow sand dredging.
In the Vietnamese press, there’s a consensus that the situation is getting worse; it is a nationwide problem fueled by the possibility of big profits, and the central government’s intervention is a must to protect lives, livelihoods and the environment.
Major rivers in the northern region:
The Red River flows from southwestern China through northern Vietnam to the Gulf of Tonkin. The Red River begins in China’s Yu River. All of them join the Ma River in Thanh Hoa province. The Ma River creates the Ma River Delta (also called the Thanh Hoa Delta), the third largest in Vietnam.
The Saigon River rises near Phum Daung in southeastern Cambodia, flows south and south-southeast for about 225km and empties into the Nha Be River. The river is joined 29 km northeast of Ho Chi Minh City by the Dong Nai River, and just above Ho Chi Minh City it is joined by the Ben Cat River.
The Saigon River is important to Ho Chi Minh City as it is the main water supply as well as the site of Saigon Port, which handled more than 35 million metric tons of cargo in 2006.nnan province and enters Vietnam at Lao Cai. Once reaching the lowlands near Viet Tri, the river and its distributaries spread out to form the Red River Delta. The Red River is notorious for its violent floods and seasonally wide volume fluctuations. The delta is a major agricultural area of Vietnam with vast area devoted to rice.
The Day River is a distributary of the Red River, draining into the Gulf of Tonkin. 240 km long, it has a drainage basin of more than 7,500 km², flowing through Hanoi and the provinces of Hoa Binh, Ha Nam Ninh Bình and Nam Dinh.
The Thai Binh river is a branch of the Thai Binh river system, which runs through Hai Duong, Bac Ninh, Bac Giang, Hai Phong and Thai Binh provinces.
The Cau River is the most important branch in the Thai Binh River system, one of the most important water systems in the north. The river is 290km long, running from Bac Kan to Thai Nguyen province. It is also the natural borderline between Bac Giang and Bac Ninh provinces.
The Ma River originates in northwestern Vietnam. It runs for 400km through Vietnam, Laos, and then back through Vietnam, meeting the sea at the Gulf of Tonkin. The largest tributaries of the Ma River are the Chu River, the Buoi River, and the Chau Chay.