Thu, May 23, 2019 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Grandma is standing up to Vietnam’s coal rush


Pham Thi Ca, 99, rests in her makeshift shelter in Van Phong Bay on April 21.

Photo: AFP

Toothless and nearly blind, grandmother Pham Thi Ca refused to leave her plot of land even after bulldozers demolished her house — an extraordinary holdout against Vietnam’s deepening addiction to coal.

The 99-year-old was offered money to move as authorities hoovered up land for a planned US$2.6 billion Japanese-funded coal plant in the remote Van Phong Bay she has called home since birth, but when she said no, about 100 officials showed up, forcibly removed her from the house, and bulldozed it as she and her grandson looked on.

They were helpless to prevent the destruction of the property two years ago, but Ca, frail and wizened, has rebuffed all attempts to evict her from the land since.

“The authorities carried me away, but I refuse to move,” said Ca, who now lives in a makeshift shelter of corrugated tin, wooden beams and coconut fronds next to the pile of rubble that was once her home.

“My house is here, my land is here, so I will be buried here,” she said while sitting on a small cot where she spends much of her time.

It is a story playing out across Vietnam, where a strong-fisted government is powering ahead with coal projects to meet the soaring energy demands of a turbo-charged economy.

Coal accounts for about a third of Vietnam’s current energy production and is slated to rise to about 50 percent by 2030.

That means building more coal plants in places like Van Phong Bay, despite a chorus of opposition from locals who complain of land grabs, loss of livelihood and environmental damage.

About 300 people have already been relocated from Ca’s community in south-central Khanh Hoa Province.

They were offered cash compensation and rooms in state housing — but the residences were far from their farms and fishing grounds. The US$43,000 inducement to leave their 9,000m2 plot was not enough to upend Ca’s family.

“We cannot work there. There is no land for cultivation,” said Ca’s son, Ho Huu Hanh, referring to the proposed relocation area.

He said that they were never told about the planned coal plant and accused the authorities of bending the law to force residents to leave.

The family lost their farmland anyway.

Now Hanh works as a day-laborer, or catches snails and small fish to get by, earning about US$170 a month.

“I can’t do anything, I feel so sorry for myself,” he added, crying.

Others in the area are worried about what the coal plant would do to fish and coral reefs in the bay where water temperatures could rise due to the plant’s runoff.

Like many of the 20 or so coal plants already operating in Vietnam, the bulk of the funding for the yet-to-be-built Van Phong plant is external.

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) last month approved a US$1.2 billion loan for the project, which is sponsored by the Sumitomo Corp of Japan and is set to come online in 2023.

Sumitomo said assessments were conducted to measure the environmental, social and health impacts of the project which were “managed and mitigated appropriately.”

It said consultation meetings were held with residents, and that compensation and resettlement was “carried out under the responsibility of local authorities in accordance with the laws of Vietnam.”

Vietnamese officials did not reply to requests for comment.

Many are pushing for renewable energy sources to be favored over the 30 or so coal plants slated to come online by 2030.

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