Titanium mining hurts Vietnamese farmers

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Residents from a poor coastal commune in the north-central province of Quang Binh have complained of serious environmental consequences caused by titanium mining.

Thousands of people in Ngu Thuy Nam Commune in the province's Le Thuy District said that mining activities have devastated a small plot of communal farmland that they rely on for their livelihood.

In 2008, the Quang Binh Import Export Joint Stock Company began mining titanium on an 18-hectare plot in the farming community. The mine sits between Mu U and Dat Set two small communal plots of farmland.

"We live on sweet potatoes, peanuts and other crops," a local resident said. "But our livelihoods are being threatened by this mine."

He said that few locals are able to eke out their living by fishing. They don't have the money to buy large boats for offshore fishing while the waters near the shoreline have been largely fished out.

Residents said that the sand dunes created by the titanium mine get blown into their land, degrading the soil quality. At the same time, the flow of the communities' groundwater has been disrupted by the mines.

They also blamed the mines for hurting their fish ponds. Representatives from the Quang Binh Import Export Joint Stock Company said that, every season, they pay the residents VND2,500 (US$0.12) per square meter to compensate them for their losses.

But the farmers say the meager compensation hasn't done anything to make up for the harm caused to them by the polluted water.

Residents also said that a stand of poplar trees planted decades ago has been cut down to expand the titanium mining operation, creating further erosion problems for the coastal communities.

According to the South Quang Binh Protective Forest Management Authority, four companies have been licensed to mine titanium in the area.

The authority said that the Quang Binh Import Export Joint Stock Company was permitted to mine 144 hectares; Hoang Long was granted 35.7 hectares, the Sen Hong with 25 hectares and Thanh Binh with 4.5 hectares.

Forest rangers said that most of the titanium mines sit on formerly protected coastal forests. Recently, local authorities changed their status to commercial forests to allow the mining firms to step in.

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