The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Exacerbated disaster impacts from hydropower development in downstream Vietnam

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on August 1, 2014

Hydropower plays an important role in Vietnam’s energy production, as government development plans set it to contribute to 23.1% of electricity by the year 2020, with hydropower projects in nine river basins across the country. Along the Gia Vu – Thu Bon river in Quang Nam province alone, there are 42 approved hydropower projects, which will contribute 7% electric energy from hydropower of the country.[1] In addition, hydropower also provides additional functions such as stream flow regulation, flood control and agricultural irrigation.[2]

Fieldwork conducted in the downstream commune of Dai An in Dai Loc District, Quang Nam province, however, seems to suggest that the hydropower projects have not achieved the above-mentioned additional functions. In addition to negative implications of hydropower projects such as increasing poverty, limited access to natural resource access and increased gender inequality in downstream communes.

First, rather than control floods, hydropower development amplified the negative impacts downstream area during the flood season. According to Quang Nam Provincial People’s Committee (PPC)’s report on the 2013 floods, 92000 households were affected, 11600 ha of agricultural land was inundated, with damage estimated at 1000 billion Dong. Dai Loc district was the hardest hit with damage totaling to 37 billion Dong and 80% houses flooded. Residents in Dai An commune noted that they have lost as much as half of the value of their assets, and livelihood activities had to cease for about one month during flood season. The impact of the floods was also exacerbated by water discharged from hydropowers, and late emergency warnings given to locals, who did not have enough time to prepare for the impending flood.

Second, hydropower development increases the likelihood of drought. 25000 ha of agricultural land along Gia Vu – Thu Bon river experience water scarcity thus making it difficult for farmers to cultivate. In 2013, drought as a result of the dams from hydropower development reduced crop productivity by 10% and raiseed 15% of cost for crop cultivation. In 2014, Quang Nam PPC estimated a loss of 30% of crop productivity if hydropowers continue keeps water in the reservoir in July.

Third, increased salination results in less water availability for downstream communities’ agricultural and household use. Salinitation occurred for 35 days in May to June 2014 in a downstream area of Gia Vu Thu Bon river, which supplies water for 80% people in Da Nang province.

Based on interviews with communities, three causes were cited for the above-mentioned situation – natural disasters, climate change and hydropower development on the Gia Vu-Thu Bon river. Moreover, many most interviewees agreed that drought and flood were made worse by the hydropower projects. The lost of forestland as a result of constructing hydropower plants coupled with the plant’s ineffective water management systems lead to the increased occurance of floods and drought.

In short, while the impacts of hydropower development on downstream areas are increasingly complex and destructive, it is still considered an important solution for meeting Vietnam’s energy needs. In order to reduce damage in downstream area, investors in hydropower projects should come to an agreement with other stakeholders on the need to supplement reforestation projects and ensure water management processes – including compensation schemes – that do not jeapoardise the wellbeing of downstream communities.

[1] Hoach Nguyen Huy, 2012, Hydropower in Vietnam: status quo and development plan.

[2] WCD. (2000). A new framework for decision-marking.

This blog post has been written by Pham Thi Nhung. Nhung is a lecturer at the Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry , and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.

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