Poor communities told to brace for dam breaches in Vietnam

By Thanh Nien Staff, Thanh Nien News

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A man looks out on a ruptured irrigation reservoir in Thanh Hoa Province after downpours in October 2013. Photo: Ngoc Minh A man looks out on a ruptured irrigation reservoir in Thanh Hoa Province after downpours in October 2013. Photo: Ngoc Minh

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Over 260 damaged, aging irrigation reservoirs loom over thousands of residents in north central Vietnam, where local governments say they lack the funds to make adequate repairs.
The Khe Mui irrigation dam in Ha Tinh Province covers around 20 hectares and began leaking after 44 years in use.
"Every monsoon season, the water in the dam rises and hundreds of families in Huong Lam worry it will burst," said Nguyen Thi Hoa, a 61-year-old resident of the province's Huong Lam Commune.
Locals offered the names of at least six other large reservoirs in the area with that are similarly precarious.
Their concerns stem from breaches in four irrigation dams that followed downpours in Tinh Gia District in nearby Thanh Hoa Province in early October of 2013.
Many villages were washed away along with 1,200 hectares of rice and other fields and 507 hectares of seafood (mainly shrimp) farms.
The rains swept away 9,000 domesticated animals, creating damages worth VND135 billion (US$6.35 million).
In neighboring Nghe An Province, the Nghi Cong Dam which was built in the 1970s holds back over four million cubic meters of water.
Farmers working thousands of hectares of fields in Nghi Cong Bac Commune, Nghi Loc District, rely on the reservoir for irrigation.
Commune Chairman Nguyen Van Ly said the dam is weak and could burst at any time.
Nguyen Thi Minh, who lives right under it, said she and her neighbors get ready to evacuate any time there’s a heavy rain.
“It’s worse when it happens at night,” Minh said.
Authorities in all three provinces say they lack the funds necessary to make sustainable repairs.
An official from Huong Son District, in Ha Tinh, said they had planned to repair 25 dams by the beginning of this year's monsoon season, but failed to do so due to a lack of funding.
Nguyen Kim Thuy, a technician at the Nghe An Irrigation Department, estimated that upgrading a 30-year old dam would cost around VND15 billion ($705,000) and local authorities don't have that kind of money.
As such, any repairs they make are piecemeal solutions, Thuy said.
Dinh Quang Duong, head of the Thanh Hoa Irrigation Department, said the province can only afford to spend around VND20-40 billion ($940,000-1.88 million) a year on dam repairs.
“We have to divide that between many dams, so any repair work is temporary.”
Vice Minister of Agriculture Hoang Van Thang failed to suggest a better solution than simply staying alert.
Thang said the province should stop storing water in vulnerable dams, establish warning systems in threatened communities and generally prepare to deal with a breach.
“Those solutions don’t cost a lot of money,” he said.

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