Dam breach destroys cassava fields, rubber plantations in central Vietnam

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 The dam that broke in Gia Lai Province early Wednesday. Photos by Tran Hieu, Thanh Nien News

A large area of cassava fields and rubber plantations was destroyed when a hydropower dam was breached in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai Wednesday morning.

The broken part, 40 meters long, let loose a cascade that flooded and laid waste to more than ten hectares of cassava fields and 20 hectares of rubber belonging to a state-owned forestry company.

Two houses built for workers of the company were also destroyed in the accident. The workers managed to climb up a tree and save their lives.

Some farmers were reportedly walking in the downstream area and were swept away.

Local police said they are investigating if there have been any casualties and estimating the property damage caused.

Dam Ia Krel 2 was built by a private firm, the Bao Long Company, which is said to have invested VND120 billion (US$5.7 million) in the project.

National utility Electricity of Vietnam has said it bears no responsibility for the accident.

The plant was expected to start operations in the third quarter of this year at a capacity of five megawatts.

Intial information is that that the dam was only storing 60 percent of its full storage capacity and there had been no major rains  and at least for the past five days.

Le Duc Dao, chief police officer of Duc Co District, said: "There must have been some problems with the dam quality, so agencies concerned need to check this."

la Krel  is one of around 40 small-scale dans in central Vietnam, defined as those with capacities lower than 30 megawatts.

Quang Binh and Quang Ngai provinces in the region have canceled several such dams after what critics say was a spate of reckless approvals.

Provincial authorities have said such dams do not generate much benefit, but cause as much damage as the big ones to the local environment and people's livelihoods.

Last year, two small dams in the region broke in October and November, one killing a truck driver standing nearby.

 Conservationists say in energy-hungry Vietnam that relies on hydropower for about 40 percent of its electricity, many dam developers who want to cash in on such dependency have touted their actions as being taken in "national interest".

But in fact, they are driven purely by the drive to make profit at any cost, experts say.

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