Open Letter on Exploiting Bauxite in Vietnam’s Central Highlands

Viet Tan

March 20, 2009

In recent decades, many countries have to come to regret economic development projects that ignored consequences to the environment. Various adverse health effects to humans, destruction of natural habitats and plant life, have necessitated a new definition of development. Today, there is a widespread consensus around sustainable development , to address the needs of the present while ensuring a productive tomorrow and without creating burdens for future generations.

The communist regime of Vietnam is bucking this understanding by its disregard for a serious threat to the country’s present and future generations.

For over three years, the politburo of the Communist Party has been quietly cooperating with China to exploit bauxite in Dak Nong and Lam Dong provinces in Vietnam’s central highlands. Only when this situation came to light did prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung acknowledge that the bauxite plans were a major policy of the party and state. In a press conference on February 4, 2009, he announced that a conference would be held to explore the consequences of bauxite mining.

These events demonstrate how the Hanoi leadership took a decision with major impact on the lives of millions of citizens in the central highlands and along the Dong Nai river basin without a proper scientific study or consideration to the lessons learned from other countries.

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Head offices for the bauxite ventures in Dak Nong and Lam Dong provinces

As a result, many Vietnamese researchers have spoken out, raising the following issues:

Low economic benefit from an overall national standpoint. The central highlands currently lack electricity, water and transportation infrastructure. Thus, the costs of mining and processing bauxite in Vietnam would not be competitive with operations in Australia or India, and would only make Vietnam dependent on China which is the intended export market.

Significant environmental risk. The sheer amount of red sludge, the toxic waste from processing bauxite, would wipe out significant animal and plant life in the affected areas. Furthermore, rainwater would wash the toxic sludge into waterways throughout the central highlands and down into Vietnam’s southern region.

Lack of a cleanup solution. Currently there is no cost effective way to clean up red sludge. Because of this, many countries no longer allow bauxite processing. Australia stores the red sludge in the desert where there is little rainfall and no inhabitants. Even China has accepted the need to close many bauxite mines and to look elsewhere for its needs.

Negative economic impact. Pollution of rivers from red sludge would impact forestry and cultivation of coffee, rubber, tea, pepper, cashew and other crops. Once these costs are factored in, the bauxite scheme brings no benefit to the people of Vietnam overall, but only serves to enrich a small group of officials directly associated with the project.

Heavy burden on many people. Millions of residents in the central highlands, especially ethnic minorities, will lose lands that sustain their livelihoods and unique cultures and/or face health problems for many years to come. Tens of millions people along the Dong Nai river and Tri An lake are potential victims as well.

The environmental destruction from bauxite mining does not differentiate among ethnic groups, poor and rich, religious affiliation or political viewpoints. This danger affects the whole country and could be passed onto future generations. This is a peril for the entire Vietnamese people.

Responsibility for creating this peril lays with each member of the communist leadership.

If it really believes the decision to mine and process bauxite in the central highlands is justified, the Politburo ought to suspend the project until the country has an opportunity to fully hear and read about the costs and benefits of the project, as well as learn from the experiences of other nations.

Given this situation, we in Viet Tan intend to:

• Contribute to bringing maximum information to light on the shadowy bauxite cooperation in the central highlands between the Hanoi government and China. We call on residents and workers in Nhan Co, Bao Lam and other areas with bauxite operations to pass along details regarding the affects on the environment and the names of the responsible government officials.

• Support Vietnamese scientists in their research and efforts to raise public awareness on the risk of bauxite processing. We especially urge and support medical professionals to prepare public education materials to mitigate the health risks.

• Urge international environmental organizations and human rights groups to pressure the Hanoi government to cease the bauxite projects. We encourage the legal community to consider possible actions against those responsible for wrecking the enviromental damage.

Duy Hoang +1 (202) 470-1678


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21/03/2009 @ 10:21

Surely the issue should be about jobs jobs jobs. Not forgetting development of the region and development of the people?

The article is riddled with mistakes giving a very biased report.

- A.N. Other

11/08/2009 @ 10:38

I had to laugh at the claim that Australia stores its waste in the desert. The transport costs alone would make this non-viable. The ’desert’ is thousands of Km from most of Australia’s bauxite mines. You are confusing the mining and refinery processes.

- Rich

15/10/2010 @ 19:01

To A.N OTHER. Did you not read the other articles? These "jobs" you identified were NOT GOING TO VIETNAMESE PEOPLE. They are going to the Chinese soldiers. I do not understand how there is this confusion on this topic. The most recent news which can support the stop of bauxite mining is in Hungary. Does this need to happen in Vietnam for eyes to open? Until then, it will be too late. Surely you need to be further educated on this topic before you can make such a comment.

- Vi

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