UNESCO co-opts Vietnam province in fight against 2 dams

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A part of Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve where two controversial hydropower projects are planned 

Dong Nai authorities said Wednesday that a UNESCO agency has sought their help to stop construction of two planned hydropower plants in the southern province to protect a world biosphere reserve.

UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB) wrote to the Dong Nai administration asking it to persuade authorized agencies to stop the dams to be built at the core of the Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve.

It said Vietnam would go against its international commitments by building them, Nguyen Thanh Tri, vice chairman of the province, told Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve was recognized by the UNESCO in June last year as a world biosphere reserve and has since been hailed by local and international experts for its biodiversity, historical traditions, and cultural space.

MAB said the two projects, Dong Nai 6 and Dong Nai 6A, will cause negative impacts on these as well as the livelihoods of local residents.

The reserve, originally known as the Cat Tien National Park, is home to 1,700 rare plants and more than 700 species of animals and birds, including many endangered ones. Eleven ethnic minority groups live around it.

It spreads over 966,563 hectares in five provinces, but 80 percent including the core is in Dong Nai.

Vietnam has promised to join in setting up the strategic frame for MAB programs until 2021, and thus has to report on its biodiversity, it said, pointing out the report would be dire if the Dong Nai reserve is destroyed.

MAB said even if Vietnam is not able to set a good example, it should not be a bad example to be cited in scientific reports.

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Tri said the province administration has always opposed the construction of the plants on the Dong Nai River, the longest river flowing completely in Vietnam.

He said while the projects would add to the country's power supply, the impacts are beyond estimation since it is not only about the park but also millions of people living downstream in Binh Duong Province and Ho Chi Minh City.

"The benefit right now is small, but the damage in the long term will be very big."

The province has called on Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Politburo to cancel the projects, he said.

The National Assembly and government are still assessing the projects' environmental impacts on the reserve.

The government has approved more than 200 hydropower projects around the country.

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