Free-for-all garbage dumping dirties Phu Quoc Island

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Garbage from the Duong Dong River ends up on Phu Quoc sandbeach during low tide

Ngo Van Giao wakes up early every day and earns VND20,000 from one hour of fetching plastic garbage from the Duong Dong River in his neighborhood.

The 82-year-old said seven or ten people would come after him doing the same thing.

Since four years, the Duong Dong River which runs into the Phu Quoc Sea has been a promising land for garbage pickers as a thousand or so families living along the river use it freely to dump their garbage into it "though we did tell them not to," said Nguyen Phu Nam, head of the Natural Resources and Environment Department of Phu Quoc, called the "emerald" off the Gulf of Thailand.

There's so much garbage that the island has to form its own cleaning group paying members based on the quantity of garbage they collect.

They travel on a speedboat that soon get filled by bottles, cans, plastic bags, dumped foods and even dead fish.

As they work, more garbage just comes from the Duong Dong River and the group has to work two shifts, in the morning and the afternoon.

"Phu Quoc sea is warm all year through, so you can swim anytime, but it feels better in the afternoon than in the morning, when it is full of garbage," said a tourist from California.

The district is considering having another garbage collecting group but there's apparently no plan to stop people from throwing stuff into the water.

A woman at a local fish market affirmed she and other vendors just collect their garbage and throw it into the river. "Yeah, that quick! And we only throw it out cause we know there're people collecting it."

Another local said: "Each family takes care of their own garbage. Just dump it into the canal and the ditch will flow into the river."

Ong Tri, Cau Gay, Somaco are some of the canals in the area and they carry huge amounts of garbage with their black water into the Duong Dong River.

Nguyen Van Khoa, head of the island's cleaning group, said fishing boats also filled the river with garbage when thousands of them anchored there when the waters got rough.

"Each boat only needs to throw a bunch of vegetables or a plastic bag, and we're dead.

"Once they threw the garbage on my head," Khoa said.

Nguyen Van Ngoc, director of Phu Quoc Public Construction Management Board, said there are about 2,000 boats anchored on the Duong Dong River at peak hours, each carrying three people.

So all kinds of waste from around 6,000 people end up in the river through ten days.

Ngoc said the cleaning group collected 140 cubic meters of garbage every day. "We have two boats but we only have money to operate one."

Enterprise pollution

The upstream section of Duong Dong River links with a three-kilometer canal that is always full of fish carcasses discharged by fish sauce maker Masan Group.

Every time it rains the garbage flows more strongly into the river.

The company recently stopped its discharge after the residents complained about the practice.

But Nguyen Moon, former deputy chairman of Kien Giang Province's Phu Quoc District, said it's hard to restore the water to its previous condition in one year as the company had promised.

Many factories, shipyards, restaurants and the Saigon-Phu Quoc Resort also uses the Duong Dong River as a common garbage dump.

A tour guide named Tam said when he took foreign tourists past the Duong Dong Town, many of them stopped to take pictures of people throwing wastewater, dead fish, shrimp and other garbage into the river.

"They point, shake their heads. Some hold their noses and walk quickly away.

"I was so embarrassed and didn't know what to say," Tam said.

Phu Quoc was listed among the top 10 beach destinations in Asia in 2010 by Tripadvisors' Readers' choice.

""¦ an isle with immaculate beaches and tiny fishing villages an hour's flight from Ho Chi Minh City is among the country's most worthwhile excursions," said the Word of Mouth tidbits section on October 2005 Conde Nast Traveler, the world's premier travel magazine.

A US professor spending three days in Phu Quoc also praised its clean air, beautiful beaches and forests, Tran Quoc Khanh, director of Phu Quoc Tourism and Commerce Promotion Center, recalled.

Yet the tourist also said "there're too many plastic bags discarded (into the environment)," Khanh cited.



In March 2008, Kien Giang Province experimented a wastewater treatment plant with a daily capacity of treating 300 cubic meters of effluents in Duong Dong Town.


Good results were seen after seven months as the sewage after treated can water trees or golf courses.


But the project only came up with a general plan in May this year. William Moon, the South Korean director of the project, said they're working on a contract with Phu Quoc authorities.


The US$340 million BOT project will include two phases: until 2020 and between 2020 and 2030, Moon said.


It will set up five treatment plants for household wastewater around the island, including one in Duong Dong Town to treat 30,000 cubic meters a day, and three for industrial wastewater.


Phu Quoc is expected to discharge 41,000 cubic meters of wastewater a day in 2020 and 72,000 cubic meters a day in 2030.


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