Hanoi wants national heritage status for polluted West Lake, experts demur

By Trinh Nguyen, Thanh Nien News

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Boats serve as floating restaurants on Hanoi's West Lake. Photo: Ngoc Thang Boats serve as floating restaurants on Hanoi's West Lake. Photo: Ngoc Thang


Hanoi authorities are considering seeking national heritage status for the West Lake in an effort to conserve the capital’s largest lake, but experts said the process should be reversed.
“Relevant agencies are focusing on recognizing the lake without protecting it,” Hoang Dao Kinh, an architect and board member of Vietnam National Heritage Council, said.
“There are boats used as floating restaurants, which are too big and ugly but dock in the West Lake, besides other structures occupying the lake.”
He estimated that the 500-hectare (1,235-acre) lake in downtown Hanoi has lost a third of its area in an ongoing process.
“There has been no design or planning for the lake.”
In a recent statement, To Van Dong, director of the city’s culture department, said Hanoi will nominate the West Lake for the government’s recognition as a “national special heritage.”
The move came after Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple in were awarded the status in February.
“Tay Ho has been planned as a tourism district, in which the most important part is the West Lake,” he said.
Historical, cultural heritage
At a conference held to discuss conserving and promoting the West Lake in Hanoi on October 2, Dao Ngoc Nghiem of the Hanoi Urban Planning Association, said the West Lake should be protected for its biodiversity and natural and cultural values.
“Many temples and pagodas have been conserved, including Tran Quoc and Tao Sach pagodas and Tay Ho and Quang Ba temples. The lake will become a major tourism destination if it is well protected and managed,” he said.
The West Lake was created from a curve in the Red River and appears in several legends. One suggests that the lake was shaped after a battle between Dragon Lord Lac Long Quan and a nine-tailed fox spirit, and that is why it was once called Xac Cao (Fox Corpse) Swamp.
Another story claims that the original name of the lake was Trau Vang (Golden Buffalo) Lake because it was formed due to the struggle of a buffalo after the disappearance of her calf.
Many restaurants on Thanh Nien and Lac Long Quan streets have also been found discharging wastewater into the lake.
A recent study by the Hanoi National University found the lake has high acidity due to accumulation of waste and wastewater. Many fish, prawn, and snail species in the lake have disappeared, according to the study.

Toilets on board some boats on the West Lake have been found discharging untreated waste into the water. File photo
The Hanoi police recently caught five boats operating illegally in the lake and are trying to identify the owners of two others who failed to turn up for questioning.
The boats, which mostly served as floating restaurants, made headlines recently for discharging even human waste into the lake.
But it has been difficult to crack down on such vessels since they fall under the jurisdiction of both transport and trading authorities, the media reported.
In a recent move Hanoi authorities last week instructed the Department of Transport and Tay Ho District to resolve the issue.
Pham Trung Luong, deputy director of the Vietnam Institute for Tourism Development Research, said these boats could apply for new licenses to operate again and continue to cause pollution.
Kinh of the Vietnam National Heritage Council said relevant authorities should improve the environment at the West Lake before nominating it as a national heritage.
“The nomination clearly does not befit the current status of the West Lake.”

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