Denmark and Norway, which both are aid-Donors to Vietnam, have called on the Vietnamese government to be cautious in a planned bauxite-mining project because it might have severe consequences for the people and environment in the pristine Central Highlands, a diplomat said Wednesday.
“According to our information, thousands of people will be relocated due to the mining project, so we have asked the Vietnamese government about plans for resettlement and for securing the livelihood of these people” said the Danish ambassador to Vietnam, Peter Lysholt Hansen. He added that international donors were also seeking assurance that the government would mitigate negative impacts on the environment.
The Norwegian ambassador to Vietnam, Kjell Storlokken, who on behalf of donors recently visited the bauxite-mining areas, earlier this week warned in a meeting of donors, called the Consultative Group for Vietnam, that Vietnam should be careful in exploiting its abundance of natural resources. Pointing to the donor community’s long-standing focus on the sustainable development needs of ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands, Storlokken said the exploitation required ‘careful stewardship’ to ensure that the people of the Central Highlands benefit ‘fully and fairly.’
“Equally, it is important that every effort must be made to limit the environmental cost of mining and minimize the impact on the natural surroundings to protect the legacy for future generations” Storlokken added. In response, Vietnamese Planning and Investment Minister Vo Hong Phuc tried to calm donors.
“Please be assured that Vietnam has prepared well for this project to ensure the economic effectiveness as well as a minimum of negative impact on society and the environment” Phuc said.
Government officials have maintained that the mining of bauxite ore, which is used to produce aluminium, is integral to the economic guidelines Vietnam’s Communist Party laid out in its 2006 five-year plan. However, persistent social and environmental concerns have prompted the government to start off with a pilot project, promising to issue an environmental and economic impact report on two existing bauxite-mining projects before deciding to allow the remaining projects in the Central Highlands to proceed. The plan originally envisioned the exploitation of 5.4 billion tons of bauxite ore in six projects in the region until 2015.
Among the government’s most outspoken critics is the 97-year old war hero and co-founder of the Vietnam Communist party, General Vo Nguyen Giap.
On May 20, he sent his third open letter to Vietnam’s leaders and the National Assembly, urging them not to proceed with the bauxite-mining project. Instead, Giap wanted to see experts called in to conduct studies on how to stimulate the economy in the mountainous region.
Vietnam’s bauxite reserves are among the world’s largest at an estimated 8 billion tons. Bauxite is extracted from open-pit mines, requiring replacement of topsoil before the land can be reforested or used for agriculture. The refining process creates large amounts of caustic red slurry, which must be contained so as not to pollute water sources. Critics said geological factors make it hard to contain such waste in the Central Highlands and worry that pollution would affect the local coffee and cacao industries as well as damage rainforests, wildlife and the social fabric of the region’s indigenous ethnic minorities.