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Church rushes to the aid of flood victims in Vietnam

Affected people in the ancient Hue province blame hydropower plants for discharging water sans warning
Hue province resident Nguyen Hua tries to protect his furniture from washing away on Nov. 17.

Hue province resident Nguyen Hua tries to protect his furniture from washing away on Nov. 17. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: November 21, 2023 11:23 AM GMT
Updated: November 22, 2023 02:59 AM GMT

The Church and the government in Vietnam have extended aid to thousands of people hit by severe floods that were caused by unnoticed discharge of water by private hydropower plants.

Heavy rains have battered the central province of Thua Thien Hue which has been facing floods since Nov. 13, claiming the lives of five people and damaging 19,000 houses, crops, poultry, and cattle. The water began to recede at a few places on Nov. 20.

Father Andrew Le Minh Phu, head of papal charity Caritas in Hue province, said Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh of Hue, Coadjutor Archbishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan and Caritas workers traveled by boats to offer money, rice, instant noodles, fish sauces, and cooking oil to 500 families in Cay Da, Duong Son, Ke Van, Kim Giao, Nhat Tay, and Tan Luong parishes.

Volunteers from parishes took hundreds of people to safe places, the priest added. 

The government has given 2,000 packets of instant noodles and water filters to help affected people in the ancient Vietnamese city of Hue, a world heritage site popular with tourists.

Nguyen Hua from Quang Dien district in Hue province said water started to rise quickly after three local hydropower plants of Binh Dien, Huong Dien, and Ta Trach discharged water into rivers on Nov. 13 night.

“We were not informed about the floods until our house was in water,” Hua said, adding that his seven-member family packed together in a 15-square-meter attic, chewing raw rice and instant noodles and drinking polluted flood water for days to survive.

Hua and his son were taken to a local hospital by boat due to food poisoning.

He said 1,000 kilograms of rice were damaged and 160 chickens perished in the flood.

“We will face a severe lack of food in the coming months and do not know how to repay our debt,” the 52-year-old farmer said in a low voice.

The communist nation with a 3,200-kilometer coastline and much of its population of 100 million staying in low-lying cities and river deltas relies mostly on coal and hydropower for its energy. 

Thua Thien Hue province is home to 13 hydroelectric plants with a total capacity of more than 459 megawatts. Most of the plants are owned by private firms.

Many local people said hydropower plants discharge water into rivers during heavy rains to avoid damage to their dams.

They alleged that the private firms ignored the damage to people's lives and properties.

They sought that the water be released during the daytime after informing people beforehand.

According to environmental experts, the power plants are erected after destroying thousands of hectares of natural forest that can help prevent floods effectively.

They said the owners of the plants pay less attention to cleaning up dams, causing water pollution not only in dams but also in rivers. 

These plants block the flow of water in the dry season, causing water shortages in the downstream areas.

In 2020, devastating floods claimed 19 lives in Phong Dien district and Thua Thien Hue province recorded 43 deaths and 122 injured.

In October, Nghe An province’s Quy Chau district claimed 177 billion dong (US$7,375 million) in compensation after three local hydropower plants discharged water with a flow of 2,000-2,500 cubic meters per second, inundating the area. 

In 2020, the Southeast Asian nation possessed 429 hydroelectric plants with a total capacity of 56 billion cubic meters, accounting for 86 percent of the total reservoir capacity nationwide, according to the industry and trade ministry.

According to the ministry, hydroelectric plants produce 20,568 megawatts, about 37 percent of the total installed capacity of the national power system.

French colonists built Ankroet Hydropower Plant with a capacity of 0.6 megawatts in Lam Dong province in 1945. The first hydroelectric project in the country was upgraded to 4.4 megawatts in 1998.

The country's largest Son La Hydroelectric Plant was inaugurated in 2012 with a capacity of 9.26 billion cubic meters.

Vietnam, an emerging economy, plans to produce 29,346 megawatts from its hydropower plants by 2030.

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