Soil excavation in southern Vietnam leaves fatal holes

TN News

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Nguyen Thi Kim Loan holds her 3-year-old daughter by a pond created by a soil excavation project near her house in Tay Ninh Province. It almost claimed the girl's life.

Nguyen Thi Ut, 44, drowned one evening in late October in a pond near her home while picking bamboo shoots.

The unfenced pond of around 10 hectares, tens of meters deep, only appeared recently the result of soil excavation projects throughout the southern province of Tay Ninh.

Excavations for soil for road constructions or ground leveling have been executed with little to no regard for public safety, creating many ponds so as the one Ut drowned in, locals said.

The first incident was reported in September 2008, when three primary school students in Tan Chau District drowned while swimming in a hole that was 0.6 square meters wide and more than three meters deep.

Several others have drowned since the excavations boomed last year.

Excavation permits were issued last year, only on 69 hectares of land in Chau Thanh District, and those projects are endangering local lives just as much as those taking place on tens of hectares that are being developed across the province without being licensed.

At one ward in Chau Thanh, Thanh Nien counted at least five ponds created by legal excavations located near each other, each of around 500 square meters.

None of them are fenced and are all located near residential areas.

Nguyen Thi Kim Loan, who lives several meters from one pond, said her 3-year-old daughter could have died in the pond if she hadn't been rescued.

Locals have been afraid to let their children go out at night.

"The ponds are so deep that adults might not be able to survive, let alone children," said Huynh Van Loi, a local man.

Many ponds in Ben Cau District have caused paddy fields to erode and some farmers have abandoned planting crops for fear of losing their investment.

Nhan said the excavators were required to fence all the ponds and plant trees inside the ponds to prevent erosion.

But Thanh Nien found that none of those precautions had been taken at excavation sites in several districts in the province.

Huynh Thanh Nhan, deputy head of Chau Thanh District Department of Natural Resources and Environment, defended the excavations, saying that that residential areas have changed since the excavation programs were approved.

Nhan said the locations were chosen in 2008, where the soil poorly suited for cultivation, and at that time they were far from residences.

But when the licenses were issued in 2011 and the operation started, many people had moved into those areas, he said.

He said he will fix the problem of unfenced ponds.

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