Amid nationwide backlash, Vietnam’s largest river gets temporary reprieve from controversial construction

By Le Quan - Chi Nhan, Thanh Nien News

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Researcher Pham Van Mien (R) with the Southern Institute of Ecology takes water samples from the Dong Nai River for testing. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Researcher Pham Van Mien (R) with the Southern Institute of Ecology takes water samples from the Dong Nai River for testing. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre


The investor of a development which is filling up a huge part of Vietnam’s largest river has bowed to fierce public opposition, putting the project on the back-burner.
Toan Thinh Phat, based in the southern province of Dong Nai, is halting the project pending further consultations from government agencies over its legitimacy and its impact on the Dong Nai River.
The Dong Nai provincial government, which sanctioned the project, released a statement Friday saying it has approved the company’s request to halt the construction to gather more instructions from the ministries of agriculture, environment and construction ministries and relevant academics.
Under a plan set by Dong Nai Province in 2009, Toan Thinh Phat has been dumping rocks and sand into the river for months to create an artificial land area of 77,200 square meters for a mixed-use development of houses, offices, shopping malls and a hotel.
Officials said the project violates Vietnam’s regulations which require any waterway to have a protection corridor of between five to 70 meters on each side.
Experts have warned that the project will cause erosion, alter the current and pollute the river.
The project also prompted various advocacy groups to launch online campaigns against it.
Not over yet
A Dong Nai government leader told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that temporarily stalling the project would not necessarily mean that the local authorities are admitting to its problematic legitimacy. By dong so, the provincial administration has merely respected the investor's request, he said.

Dong Nai officials earlier said that the scale of the project is small, so the province does not have to ask for the central go-ahead in advance.
But leaders of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said it has to, because the project is not small at all.
Sell the nation down the river?
Vice minister of environment Nguyen Thai Lai said at a meeting Friday the river affects Ho Chi Minh City and ten other provinces, so Dong Nai Province cannot single-handedly decide if a development will harm the river.
Vietnam’s Water Resource Law makes the ministry the supervisor of rivers that run through more than one locality, so Dong Nai Province should have consulted the ministry before approving the project.
Dong Nai is the longest river within Vietnam, running over 586 kilometers from the Central Highlands to HCMC.
It supports nearly 20 million people and is a main water source for people in southern Vietnam, including 10 million in HCMC.
Researchers from the Southern Institute of Ecology and from Vietnam Rivers Network, the country’s largest advocacy group of water protection, have come down the river to take water samples in the portion that runs through the province for further testing.
Pham Van Mien, an ecology researcher with the institute, said he has taken seven samples including those near the project for testing.
“I will assess how the ecology here has altered during the construction," Mien said. “I will take more samples several other times to estimate the impacts of the project on the water environment here.” 
Dong Nai officials have been adamant that the project would cause little bearing but Mien said he was not buying it. He said he has seen with his own eyes how large amount of materials was dumped over a long portion of the river. 
"I'm sure that [if the construction forges ahead] the current will be faster, creating eddies that alter the water quality and biodiversity under the river and on its banks.”

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