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Devastation by deforestation
Thursday,  6/28/2018, 16:24 

Devastation by deforestation

By Son Nguyen

Scores are killed, numerous others are missing, and huge properties are gone as flash floods triggered by torrential rains over the past few days have swept through the northwestern upland. Natural disasters are force majeure but in many cases devastation can be limited or minimized if conditions are not created for the wrath of nature to take its toll. And such conditions are already created.

Initial data from the Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control shows that as of this Tuesday, as many as 19 people had been killed in flash floods while 11 had remained missing, with the biggest death toll being reported in Lai Chau Province at 14, and Ha Giang Province at 5, according to Tuoi Tre. The calamities have also claimed huge private properties, with 124 houses collapsed, 600 others badly damaged, over 1,200 hectares of crops and 40 hectares of fishery ponds destroyed. Total property losses are estimated at VND422 billion, says the paper.

The flash floods have also wreaked havoc with public facilities, as numerous small bridges, road sections, and electricity poles have been swept away or brought down. According to Lao Dong, numerous residential zones were isolated during the flash floods as many national highways have crumbled with several sections even severed. For example, a section of National Highway 4D in Lai Chau sank in the flooding, with some 10,000 cubic meters of soil swept away, while floods also washed away 20,000 cubic meters of soil from two sections of National Highway 4H. On National Highway 279, a section of 30 meters was also gone.

It will take time to calculate the losses.

Such above-mentioned figures, however, cannot tell the extent of the damage, and the terror the people endured.

News site Vnexpress relates how residents in Chu Va 12 Village in Ha Giang Province’s Quan Ba District saw death vis-à-vis during Tuesday night. The deadly flash flood came upon the villagers early in the morning, and within two hours, the entire village was submerged and isolated.

Villagers say they heard abnormal roars like earthquakes upstream, followed by ferocious floods that instantly swept away all their belongings. Vu Thi Mai Phuong, 55, recalls on Vnexpress how she saw masses of soil and rocks from a mount nearby tumble down to the spring, which is comparable to “the tsunami I once saw on TV.” She was lucky to narrowly escape the danger unscathed but her husband was swept away. The terror and the grief are all beyond imagination, as her heart-rending accident is just a small grey dab on the entire gloomy picture.

And such a gloomy picture has been created by human greed, says local media.

Deforestation has been the main cause of the ever-increasing devastation by natural calamities. News site Vietnamnet says that in the 2000-2015 period, the country suffered 18 flash floods that killed 47 people a year on average, but last year alone, and in the northwestern region of the nation alone, as many as 41 people were either killed or missing in August, and two months later, an additional 18 people there were killed in a landslide.

And the increasing death toll is seemingly closely related to deforestation. Citing data from the General Department of Forestry, Vietnamnet says though the country’s forest coverage is put at 41.45%, equivalent to 14.2 million hectares, much of the coverage is sparsely grown forest, while thick-foliage forests are being replaced by replanted trees. In 1990, the area of sparsely grown forest was put at seven million hectares, but it expanded to 10.2 million hectares by 2005, or 80% of the total forest coverage, meaning three more million hectares of natural forest was logged down in 15 years.

In recent years, forests in the northwestern region have been seriously infringed, says vov.vn, the website of the Voice of Vietnam radio station. In 2015 alone, authorities in the northwest uncovered nearly 2,000 cases of illegal logging. There was also a serious case in which 131 households in five communes in Son La Province signed an agreement to jointly log down the forbidden forest, and within one morning, such illegal loggers cleared off 20 hectares of the forest.

The forest is killed for several reasons. There are illegal loggers committing violations for their own gains, there are cases of forest rangers colluding with illegal loggers to do so, there are licenses given to mining companies to tap resources and damage the forest, and especially there are many licenses awarded to developers of hydropower projects to destroy vast forest land.

As the forest gives way to reservoirs, the water flow downstream dwindles in the dry season, but swells in the rainy season, aggravated by numerous hydropower dams discharging water downstream. Vov.vn says three reservoirs in Ha Giang Province each discharged between 1,000 and 1,400 cubic meters of water per second during the doomsday.

In Ha Giang Province alone, there are 47 hydropower projects, including 24 operational plants, and last year, such plants obtained combined revenue of VND2,000 billion, just a trivial sum compared to the damages. “Neither the people nor the electricity industry, but it is hydropower investors that are benefiting,” says the news site.

The consequence is that the frequency of natural calamities has risen quickly. According to vov.vn, since the start of the last rainy season, such calamities in the northwestern upland have killed nearly 100 people and caused property losses of over VND5,000 billion.

A poor project may cause a loss of trillions of Vietnam dong, but such a loss can be compensated in a few years, but a hill rendered barren by human greed can hardly turn green again, says Lao Dong. Natural disasters caused by downpours, as seen in the northwest, are a matter of fact, but it is undeniable that such disasters are also partially attributed to humans, when numerous vast swathes of forest land, and multiple mounts and hills have been grazed to the ground, all by the human greed, says the paper.

Although it is impossible to restore all the natural forest, it is high time deforestation be completely stopped, if devastation by flash floods as seen in the past few days is to be gradually lessened. In order to do so, there must be solutions to control human greed as the primary culprit in deforestation. “Only after the last tree is felled, only after the last river becomes poisoned, and only after the final fish is gone can we be aware that money is inedible,” says Tuoi Tre in a commentary.

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