Pollution threatens Vietnam's "little Paris'

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Da Lat's once pristine ecological attractions have suffered from unchecked dumping, mining and logging

The entrance to a network of tunnels dug by illegal tin miners beneath the Valley of Love in Da Lat. The town's many natural attractions have become degraded thanks to civic indifference and poor government oversight.

The hilly town of Da Lat has drawn legions of tourists seeking cool climes, forest walks and picturesque natural scenes.

The capital of Lam Dong Province was once so popular with French colonists that they came to refer to it as Vietnam's "little Paris."

However, a recent report from Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper suggests that the town's many natural attractions have come to be degraded thanks to civic indifference and poor governmental oversight.

The story largely drew from a recent report issued by inspectors from Lam Dong Province's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism which warned that some of the town's famed natural tourist attractions had significantly deteriorated due to environmental pollution.

Dumping where you eat

Than Tho Lake ("Lake of Sorrows") sits about six kilometers east of downtown Da Lat and has become internationally renowned for its tranquility.

 "Here all you can hear is the whizzing of a gentle breeze blowing through the misty pines," wrote one tourism website.

The bright, small farms of the adjacent Thai Phien Flower Village provided another picturesque destination for visitors to the town (which is also known as "Flower City"). But, according to management officials, the villagers have polluted the lake for years reducing it to an unsightly trash-addled bog.

The flower farmers stand accused of littering the ground with used insecticide bottles and packages. When it rains, the detritus pours into the lake.

Phan Thi Kim Dung has sat on the lake's management for ten years. According to Dung, chemical fertilizers and insecticides have soaked into the soil surrounding the lake, contaminating the groundwater and creating a dire ecological hazard.

Something smells rotten at Cam Ly

Pollution has also struck the Cam Ly Waterfall"”a once breathtaking natural attraction just two kilometers west of Da Lat.

The latest statistics from Lam Dong Province's Department of Natural Resources and Environment found contaminants at Cam Ly had exceeded all allowable levels. Inspectors from the department attributed the waterfall's overwhelming stink to domestic waste that had been dumped upstream by surrounding communities.

An officer from the department, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Cam Ly Waterfall should no longer be considered "a tourist site."

 "I associate this waterfall with many good memories, so when I come back to reflect I'm very sad that I have to cover my nose," Nguyen Hoang Thieu, a Da Lat native who currently lives in Hanoi, said during a recent visit.

As Thieu spoke, he held a handkerchief over his face to filter the powerful stink.

On sunny days, the smell only worsens. Most tourists cannot stand to walk around the waterfall for more than 15 minutes and a man who rents horses at the waterfall said he no longer lets his animals drink the water.

Nguyen Duc Nhuan, deputy director of the Cam Ly Waterfall Tourism Area, said the management's hands remain tied as long as members of the surrounding community continue to dump domestic sewage and garbage into the streams that feed into the waterfall and the small lake below.

Problems underground

The Valley of Love, a picturesque mountain community about 5 kilometers from Da Lat, remains popular with honeymooners, despite a scourge of illegal subterranean tin mining.

Last October, the valley's management discovered a network of tunnels dug by illegal miners to extract tin from the 137 hectare valley. The tunnels span hundreds of meters and are outfitted, in places, with water and electricity.

The management notified the local authorities about the illegal mining, but no effective measures have been taken to put an end to their activities. Recently, forest management authorities discovered a freshly-dug entrance to the mine.

Officials from the Lam Vien Forest Management Department said they entered several abandoned tunnels this month, only to discover a series of ventilation shafts connecting them to new tunnels.

After following the ventilation shafts, the officials discovered mining carts and axes as well as food and drink.

Nearly gone

The management of the Than Tho Lake has continued to raise alarms, over the years, as the lake continued to shrink.

Rampant illegal logging in the surrounding hills has led to increased soil erosion. For years, heavy rain has pushed red mud down the denuded hills into the water below, shrinking the circumference of the lake from nine hectares to three.

To make matters worse, the management maintains that farmers living around the shrinking water body have quickly filled in the muddy banks with soil in order to plant more crops.

 "If local government does not do anything, sooner or later the lake will disappear," said Le Dinh Thanh, deputy director of Thuy Duong Company, which was hired to dredge the lake bed.

On May 28, Nguyen Van Huong, director of Lam Dong Province Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, told Tuoi Tre that the department would work with government officials and investors in the tourist sites to tighten management and restoration activities.

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