Environmentalists say Vietnamese highway a threat
Author: David Brunnstrom
Five groups, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature, said in a joint statement made available yesterday that the Ho Chi Minh Highway could have serious environmental consequences.
They called for work in or near protected areas to be postponed until a full international environmental assessment had been carried out and results integrated into the plan.
Construction of the highway, which international donors had hoped would remain a pipe dream because of its cost, began in April. It will eventually run 1,690 km (1,056 miles) from near Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south.
The budget for phase one has been put at $380 million, but no final cost estimate has been made public.
The road will follow parts of the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail, a maze of jungle tracks named after Vietnam's independence hero used to move men and supplies from communist North Vietnam to U.S.-backed South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
"Several aspects of the planned Ho Chi Minh National Highway have raised considerable concerns," the environmentalists' statement said, "in particular, plans for construction and upgrading existing roads in and adjacent to protected areas."
PRIORITY CONSERVATION SITES AFFECTED
It said the road would affect ten such areas, including national parks and nature reserves, many of which had been cited as priority conservation sites in a 1995 action plan.
The environmentalists said international environmental assessments would be needed if funding were to be sought from agencies like the World Bank or Asian Development Bank.
Officials of both organisations said they were not involved in the project, but confirmed that such assessments would be needed if they were to provide funding.
The environmentalists said the highway should not cross protected areas and roads built in or near any protected area should be properly assessed before work began.
They said Vietnam's oldest national park, Cuc Phuong, which was inaugurated by Ho Chi Minh, was under immediate threat as construction had already started to the west of it.
They said the park is a global centre for plant diversity and home to Delacour's Langur, a critically endangered primate.
Also threatened was the Phong Nha nature reserve, home to another, the Ha Tinh Langur.
"The road construction poses an extremely serious threat to the habitat of this and other unique primates," they said, adding that it could also seriously undermine Vietnam's efforts to have Cuc Phuong declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Other endangered animals living in parks that would be affected included the grey headed fish eagle, tigers and elephants, the statement said.
Yesterday's Saigon Times Daily quoted Duong Tuan Minh, deputy director of the project, as saying its consultants had been told to consider the environmentalists' proposals and find solutions for the most vulnerable areas.
He said alternative routes had already been devised for the Cuc Phuong and Phong Nha areas and the project board would meet the environmental agencies for discussions late this week.