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Man-made calamity
Son Nguyen
Friday,  Oct 20, 2017,15:00 (GMT+7)

Man-made calamity

Son Nguyen

Flashfloods and landslides in recent days have claimed huge losses of human lives, with over 100 people reported dead or missing, let alone a great extent of property damages amounting to trillions of Vietnam dong. Unprecedented rainfalls triggered by climate change, measuring up to 500mm in some northern mountainous provinces within just a couple of days, has been pinpointed as the reason behind the great destruction, but the root cause that has aggravated the losses, as highlighted in local media, is man-made. It is deforestation.

“Deforestation is a major painful issue,” admits Tran Quang Hoai, head of the Department for Disaster Prevention and Fighting under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. “We are paying a high price and this will still go on for many more years,” Hoai is quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying.

The tenth tropical storm last month seen by local flood and storm control agencies as the most ferocious in recent years, but the loss of human lives was much lighter compared to the tropical low that induced downpours this month. Six were killed in the storm but over 70 lost their lives in the flashfloods and landslides, plus scores still missing, according to the newspaper.

The point made by Tran Quang Hoai is echoed by Nguyen Van Tue, head of the Climate Change Department under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. “Climate change has caused landslides and flooding. But, it must be emphasized that such devastation is aggravated by man. Watershed forests are chopped down, and primitive forests replaced by plantations of short-term crops,” Tue is quoted as saying in Dai Doan Ket.

As a reminder, flashfloods and landslides in three northern mountainous provinces – Son La, Yen Bai and Dien Bien – two months earlier also inflicted huge losses, with 34 people reported killed and missing, according to Dai Doan Ket.

Hundreds of media outlets have pointedly named deforestation as the main culprit behind the grave devastation. Dan Tri reports that vast areas of thick jungle in Son La Province in the past have now become barren hills, which gives way to flashfloods upon heavy rains.

According to Vietnamnet, primitive forests with thick layers of foliage used to cover large swathes of areas from the north to the south, acting as an effective shield against flashfloods. However, the green-covered land now has become barren hills as forests have been destroyed, and the consequences are unavoidable.

Deforestation has continued lately, despite repeated calls from the Government as well as the society to protect nature. This year alone, as many as 1,700 cases of illegal logging have been reported in the country, especially in the Central Highlands, despite an order by the Government to close all natural forests, according to Thoi bao Kinh te Sai Gon. Such a situation mirrors a fact that the Government’s instruction has been rendered ineffective.

Consequences from deforestation, says Thanh Nien, have been reported, and stern warnings have been raised, but in many provinces across the country, forests are still shrinking.

Referring to the 1,700 cases of deforestation that have been reported this year, Thanh Nien says such illegal logging cases have been made possible due to the loose management and even collusion of local leaders. Many provincial leaders have ignored public protests and the Government’s order by licensing or legalizing economic projects encroaching on natural forests.

“There is a race (among economic entities), so to say, to destroy forests in the name of economic development. In reality, many provinces without comparative strength in tourism have still awarded licenses for enterprises to develop resorts right in the forest,” says the newspaper.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, at a teleconference last week on forest protection, vented his anger at the continued deforestation nationwide on the excuse of economic growth. “In some localities, local leaders still allow for transforming vast areas of forest without observing the law. There are even cases of extensive deforestation for some hydropower projects that have not been licensed,” the Government leader is quoted by Dan Tri as saying at the conference. The Prime Minister also pointed out that small-scale hydropower projects are killing forests the fastest. 

As the Government has ordered the closure of all forests, any violations must be strictly dealt with now, according to Vietnamnet. “As the Government has ordered that forests be closed, any single log of wood transported out of the forest must be seen as illegal. And as the Government has ordered forest closure, there are no legal grounds for considering any new projects that have impacts on the forest,” says the online newspaper.

The country’s forest coverage is now some 41.2%, with 14.3 million hectares, an increase of a mere 0.35% over 2015, according to data from the conference. However, of this total area, replanted forests account for nearly one-third, at over 4 million hectares, while natural forests continue to face depletion. In the Central Highlands, for example, last year saw over 11,000 hectares of natural forest wiped out.

Citing data from the World Bank, Doanh Nhan Sai Gon Cuoi Tuan says that the forest coverage in Vietnam is among the lowest in the world, at a mere 0.14 hectare per capita compared to the global average of 0.97 hectare.

Commenting on the tragedy occurring to the people, especially ethnic minorities, in the northern upland region, Vietnamnet says the people there day in day out have to witness forestry products, especially timber, flowing downstream, leaving behind poverty and backwardness, and now the destructive calamity.

The calamity, though induced by climate change, primarily stems from deforestation, which in itself is also a root cause leading to climate change. It is the man-made calamity.

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