November 1, 2010
A revolt of sorts in Vietnam
By The Hanoist
Vietnam’s environmental movement, which rose up last year in opposition to bauxite mining in the Central Highlands, is back. Spurred into action by a toxic spill in Hungary on October 4, more than 2,000 people including many leading citizens have signed a new petition calling on the state to halt its US$15.6 billion plans and so avoid the risk of a similar catastrophe in Vietnam.
In early 2008, the Vietnamese government announced a plan to extract bauxite and process the ore into alumina, an intermediary step in producing aluminum. Critics pointed out the potential devastation to the ecologically sensitive Central Highlands – home to many of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities and cash crops – and the risks of storing vast quantities of toxic sludge, a byproduct of processing alumina, upriver from the densely populated Mekong delta.
Vietnamese academics also questioned the economic cost-benefit due to the project’s large need for electricity, in short supply in the country, and the required construction of a 250 kilometer railway and dedicated port. The plan calls for the alumina, a relatively low-profit commodity, to be exported to a single market, China, leaving Vietnamese industry captive to a powerful buyer. Continue reading