Local people expressed support for the Government's exclusion of hydro-power projects No 6 and 6A on the Dong Nai River from an electricity development master plan, with the decision being announced by Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai last week.

"If scientists and the media had not sounded the alarm about the negative impacts these projects would have had on the environment (for nearly seven years), over 300ha of primary forests in the Cat Tien National Park would have been destroyed," said Dr Vu Ngoc Long, Head of the Southern Ecology Institute.

Earlier last month, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had petitioned the Government to reconsider No 6 and 6A as well as all other hydro-power projects in the Dong Nai River Basin. It said the Government should do a comprehensive review of the two since an environmental impact assessment found that many issues still need to be clarified.

The ministry made its suggestion after sending a report to the Government Office about the proposed construction of the two power plants by Duc Long - Gia Lai Co. It said the two projects require 372.23ha of forests, including 128.37ha in Cat Loc, a core zone in the Cat Tien National Park.

In its environmental impact report, Duc Long - Gia Lai pledged to afforest the area but its report did not show the areas or contain plans for afforestation. It also failed to mention the estimated loss of bio-diversity at Cat Tien and other ecological losses in the region. Measures proposed to minimise the biological impacts were infeasible, according to the ministry.

Its report said no measures have been spelled out to protect the fauna and flora while the impact on stream flows in the lower section would affect the ecology, water levels, and the areas of swamp in Bau Sau Ramsar.

The hydro-power projects also pose other disadvantages. Work on related support facilities such as transmission lines and roads to support them will have an adverse impact on the environment and socio-economic conditions. This will also affect Nam Cat Tien National Park. The projects could also affect the subsistence of locals who earn their livelihoods from farming, aquaculture, and fishing in the lower sections and impact Nam Cat Tien National Park's application for world heritage status.

"The Party Committee, the People's Committee, and National Assembly deputies from Dong Nai repeatedly voiced the 'disadvantages' of these projects," the Deputy Chairman of the province People's Committee, Nguyen Thanh Tri, said. He added that these two projects would also have made the global community lose confidence if the core zone of Nam Cat Tien National Park had been destroyed.

Last week Bui Phap, Chairman of Duc Long - Gia Lai's management board said the company respects the Government's decision and would focus on other businesses. "This is a national issue. We should think about national interests rather than the company's benefits," he told the Nguoi Lao Dong (The Labourer) newspaper.-VNA