The nation's northwestern region is susceptible to a wide range of geological hazards but research on the nature and extent of the risks remain limited, says the Vietnam General Association of Geology.

Prof Dao Van Thinh from the association's Institute of Geology and Environment said that earthquakes were one of few hazards to have received relatively meticulous research, and studies have shown that the northwestern region has the highest earthquake danger in Vietnam .

In the century between 1903 and 2003, the region was struck with 340 recorded earthquakes of different magnitudes. Over 70 percent measured less than 5 magnitude on the Richter scale, which will cause noticeable shaking of indoor items and rattling noises but minimal damage.

Prof Nguyen Dich Dy from the Centre of Geographic Environment and Territory Management said the typical geological features of the region are topographical extremes of elevation and subsidence.

"The amplitude of displacement in the region is amongst the highest in the nation and the neo-tectonic deformation is ongoing, resulting in complex tectonic settings of large differentia," Dy said.

Thinh agreed, noting high landslide risks in such areas as along National Highways 32 and 12 connecting Lai Chau and Dien Bien provinces and National Highway 127 from Muong Te to Lai Chau.

A survey conducted by the National Centre for Hydro-Metorological Forecasting also found that, between 1953 and 2004, there were at least 317 flash floods nationwide, with the majority occurring in the northwest region.

"Flash floods are occurring at greater frequency and causing more extensive damage," Thinh said.

Centre director Dinh Van Hung said that, apart from natural factors, widespread and unplanned exploitation of natural resources has also destabilised the region's geography.

"It is high time the northwestern region should have a master plan on land use and management," Hung told the English-language daily Vietnam News.

The northwestern region of Vietnam includes Hoa Binh, Yen Bai, Son La, Dien Bien, Lao Cai, and Lai Chau provinces and part of Phu Tho province./.