The dark side of hydropower: untold stories from Song Tranh 2 hydropower, Quang Nam Province

by Le Thi Huong Loan


In the middle of March, we visited Bac Tra My District. It is a mountainous area of Quang Nam Province, Vietnam. It is the motherland of Ca-dong people – an ethnic minority of Vietnam. Bac Tra My is a poor district with the poverty rate is up to nearly 20%. It consists of 8 communes and most of them located along Tranh River.

The hydropower project in Tranh River has brought about several changes in living of local community since the dam was built in 2005 (finished in 2008). Thousands of households had to relocate their homes from 2004 to 2009. This project was expected to supply a large amount of electricity to the Central region of Vietnam and contribute significantly to modernization of Quang Nam economy. However, we did see a lot of sadness of local people when they talked about this hydro project.

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Picture 1: Tranh – A Death River in Downstream

First, we saw a death river along the way form the district centre to Tra Bui – the most remote commune of Bac Tra My district. Tranh River used to be well-known by strong water flow and the river was the source of living for thousands of people living along it. Let listen stories of people who we met along the way.

Rice farming actually was not a mean to make local people become rich. However, it could provide food security for many people. Mrs. Loi – an old woman in Tra Doc Commune – said that “My family cultivated 5-6 ang of rice seed annually (it means that her area was about 0,3-0,4 ha). We had enough rice for basic need of my family and for annual festival”. She also reveals that the living of her family used to be quite easy before construction of the dam in Tranh River even she was quite relatively poor. Thank to alluvium accumulation of Tranh River, her paddy rice field had good quality and she could catch a lot of fishes from Tranh River. After construction of dam, her living faced many problems. Land slide happens often in rainy season. Now she has only about 2/3 of land compared to the previous time. Furthermore, she could hardly catch fishes from Tranh River because it is nearly a death river now. In her commune (Tra Doc), a bridge was built making this commune not being isolated in rainy season. But better transportation brings about more benefits to better-off people whose acacia forest than to poor family like Mrs. Loi.

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Picture 2: Mrs. Loi – Poor and Old Ca-Dong Woman

From story of Mrs. Loi, we came to see a fisherman – Mr. Coi in Tra Tan commune. He has six children and his family is very poor. He complained that due to the death of Tranh River led to the death of fishery and as a result, he lost the most important source of income. We spent two hours with him in the Tranh River bank to listen him recall his memory on a rich river. Now, he becomes a free-lancer and his two elderly sons migrated to Tam Ky city to look for job. He said that just only few rich households could do fish cage in Tranh reservoir and they still have good income. But he and many other fishermen had no capital so their livelihood is now very unstable. He is so worry about the future of four young children who are still at schooling age.

However, the darkest side of Tranh River hydropower is still ahead. After that, we went up to Tra Bui Commune, where local people are most seriously ones affected by Tranh River hydropower project. We met many harsh faces with a lot of angriness, worriment and questions here. Mr. Son – an ordinary farmer in Hamlet 3 – angrily told that Tranh River hydropower project made his family miserable. He as well as a lot of other people in Tra Bui Commune had to leave their homeland to the resettlement area which is about 25 km away. It can be said that they were obliged to move as they could not deal with hydropower investor on moving or not. In their new place, they have neither arable land for cultivation nor area for husbandry as topography is too sloping. They cannot do fishery as fish sources are exhausted. He and many others in the commune had to violate protection forest to earn their living although they know that their violation is illegal. Local people are very disappointed with investor and governmental officials.

Stories of people along Tranh River are still going on and those people have to face difficulty day after day. They make us worry about future of local people, especially their children. What should be done to prevent other rivers from being death and prevent other powerless people from being exploited? We think that this question is not for each group grass-root people, officials, investors, etc but for the whole society.

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Picture 3: An abandoned house of relocated household which its owner migrated to Tam Ky city to look for a new job.

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