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Vietnam province redefines hydropower development

On the eve of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit in Vientiane, Mr Nguyen Duc Hai, the Chairman of Quang Nam Provincial People's Committee, has taken a bold and visionary stance for sustainable dam development in this Vietnam province. WWF, the global conservation organization, says this sends a timely and powerful signal to regional leaders as they seek to manage the pressing challenges of rapid infrastructure development and economic growth in a sustainable way.

"Many hydropower plans and strategies are made without looking at the 'big picture', and as a result these projects can have negative impacts on the environment. The recommendations from the hydropower assessment for the Vu Gia-Thu Bon river basin will help us achieve sustainable hydropower development goals in particular, and economic development goals in general," said Mr Hai.

Quang Nam Province's new direction is exceptional, as most plans for dams rarely take environmental aspects into consideration. With 82 existing large hydropower dams in the Greater Mekong Subregion and 179 more at different stages of planning, Mr Hai's comments reflect the pressing challenges that regional leaders face in balancing economic development, people's livelihoods and safeguarding the region's prized natural resources and environment.

A World Bank review of 66 hydropower projects found that on average, actual costs exceeded project budgets by more than one fourth, often due to unresolved social and environmental issues. Considering that the construction of a large dam usually exceeds USD 500 million, the budget over-run for just one project represents an additional USD 135 million.

"Applying environmental considerations in hydropower projects can lead to major savings for governments and developers in the long run," says WWF's Marc Goichot. "This approach decreases risk and uncertainty. Moreover, it helps to meet the growing energy needs of the region while reducing impacts for nature and people. Governments can lead the way towards responsible hydropower development by considering the cumulative impacts and benefits of these projects in river basins."

Quang Nam Province is an area of rich biodiversity that boasts species such as the critically endangered saola. Mr Cong, Director of the Quang Nam Department of Natural Resources and Environment recognizes that conservation is a key component of regional growth. "The People's Committee of Quang Nam Province fully supports the issue of biodiversity conservation and the recommendation to maintain some rivers intact from headwaters to sea. This will help develop nature tourism and promote economic growth in the long-term," he stresses.

With the impacts of climate change increasing across the region, the natural functions of rivers are essential to reduce the severity of natural disasters on people and ecosystems. Already, rising sea levels are impacting coastal areas, but rivers are necessary to protect coastal communities by replenishing sediment along coasts.

Developers have a key role in shaping responsible hydropower projects in Quang Nam. "It is our responsibility to conform to the recommendations of the hydropower assessment now that it is endorsed by the provincial government. In principle, we will always take the provincial government's regulations and policies into serious consideration," says Mr Truong Thiet Hung, Director of Song Bung 4 Hydropower Project Management Board.

"By inviting WWF and partners to help implement the recommendations of the hydropower environmental assessment, the Chairman of Quang Nam is demonstrating to the countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion that sustainable growth builds on environmental considerations," highlights Tran Minh Hien, Director of WWF Vietnam. "We will work with partners of the GMS, including governments, developers and communities towards ensuring sustainability within the region."

The connectivity between GMS countries relies on the integration of economic development and social and environmental concerns. As heads of state gather for the GMS Summit in Vientiane this week, WWF asks that the governments of the GMS recommit to a vision of growth where environmental sustainability is the foundation for development.

Notes to editors:

Information related to this press release, including high resolution photographs and maps, can be downloaded from

WWF has been active for more than 30 years in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). In this part of the world, the organization's work focuses on freshwater, forests, species, oceans & coasts, and making sure that infrastructure development does not compromise the area's environmental integrity. In this region, WWF focuses its work on priority Global 200 ecoregions-the richest, rarest, and most diverse natural habitats in the world-which include the Mekong River Basin, the Lower Mekong Dry Forests, and the Greater Annamites. WWF has worked in Quang Nam Province since 1995, and has supported the province in highly valued conservation programmes. Further information on WWF's work can be found at

The province of Quang Nam lies at the heart of the Central Annamites landscape, which covers part of Vietnam and Laos. This forms part of the Greater Annamites, one of WWF's Global 200 ecoregions-the richest, rarest, and most diverse natural habitats in the world. One of the greatest concentrations of endemics (species found nowhere else in the world) are found here in these wet tropical rainforests, also considered one of the last living refugia for climate change. Species include the critically endangered saola, a deer-like mammal, discovered as recently as 1992 by a team of scientists from the Ministry of Forestry of Vietnam and WWF.

Quang Nam Province has two river basins; the Vu Gia-Thu Bon river basin occupying 90% and other river basins occupying about 10% of the province. Vu Gia-Thu Bon river basin is ranked fourth in Vietnam for potential hydropower generation capacity. The Vu Gia system flows through the City Province of Danang, the fourth largest city in Vietnam. The Thu Bon systems flows through Hoi An, a prime tourist destination and World Heritage Site. During the past decade, energy demand in Vietnam has grown at a rate of 13-15% annually, and demand is projected to continue growing at a similar high pace over the next 10 years.

The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) comprises Cambodia, two provinces of the People's Republic of China, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 1992, with ADB's assistance, the six countries entered into a programme of subregional economic cooperation, designed to enhance economic relations among the countries. The programme has contributed to the development of infrastructure to enable the development and sharing of resources, and promote the freer flow of goods and services in the subregion.

Biodiversity Conservation Landscapes are large nature expanses of forests and freshwater areas-approximately 60,000 km2-that were identified as vital for ecological functions and ecotourism. The Biodiversity Conservation Landscapes represent ecological networks, with natural and/or semi-natural landscape elements. These landscapes require management and maintenance of ecosystem functions in order to conserve biodiversity and provide opportunities for the sustainable use of natural resources.

The Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Quang Nam Province Hydropower Plan for the Vu Gia-Thu Bon River Basin was carried out by the International Centre for Environmental Management (ICEM) and commissioned by the Vietnam Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (DONRE), Vietnam Ministry of Industry, Electricité du Vietnam, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

More information about the Mekong region