Construction quality blamed in Vietnam dam break

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Ia Krel 2 dam that broke in Gia Lai Province Wednesday morning. Photo by Tran Hieu, Thanh Nien News

Officials have blamed poor quality of construction and failure to comply with design for the collapse of a dam wall last week in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.

A 40-meter stretch of the Ia Krel 2's wall was breached Wednesday, and the 4.5 million cubic meters of water inundated around 30 hectares (75 acres) of fields.

In a bizarre turn, Le Vinh, director of the province Department of Construction, claimed he did not know about the dam's existence until the breach.

Investigations are underway into its legality after the company that built it, Bao Long, failed to produce any documents.

"The construction was done too carelessly," Vinh also said at a meeting Thursday to review the breach.

Poor construction had caused the breach, he said, explaining that while some portions had required concrete sheets the builder had used small rocks instead.

Minister of Construction Trinh Dinh Dung said  there is not enough data yet to reach a final conclusion about the cause.

Preliminary investigations have found that water absorbtion by the dam wall had caused the breach, he said, however, on the sidelines of a National Assembly session last week.

Bach Duc Quang, general director of Bao Long, said the bottom of the VND120-billion (US$5.7 million) dam used to be a road for heavy construction vehicles, and the foundation was not strengthened enough, thus the cracks and breach.

The company has been asked to work with local authorities to estimate the damage and make proper compensation.

The water flooded more than 10 ha of cassava and 20 ha of rubber belonging to a state-owned forestry company, and destroyed two houses built for the company's workers.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has ordered an investigation since rains -- a possible cause for the breach -- have kept away in recent days, throwing suspicion squarely on construction quality.

Hydropower plants in Vietnam fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, but small ones, defined as those with a capacity of less than 30 MW, are managed by local authorities.

Ia Krel 2 has a capacity of five MW.

Deputy PM Hoang Trung Hai said small dams cause great concern since their management tend to be loose.

Late last year two small dams in the region broke, killing a truck driver.

Investigators later blamed poor construction after checking the building materials. 

Around 40 small dams were approved in the central region, though some were canceled last year after local governments had second thoughts.

Provincial authorities said such dams do not offer much benefit, but cause as much damage as large ones on the local environment and people's livelihoods.

Vietnam relies on hydropower for about 40 percent of its electricity.

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