Vietnam: Forests fall to yet another gold rush in northern province of Thai Nguyen

Devastated forest areas and destroyed mountains are not an uncommon
sight these days in the northern province of Thai Nguyen. They are
evidence of the gold rush that has plagued the province for several
years now, of the loss of natural resources and biodiversity, and of
severe pollution of water sources.

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In 2006, 218 hectares of forest had been destroyed in Thai Nguyen and
200 hectares in Nghe An because of mining activities. “We usually show
pity and rush to send relief aid every time there’s a destructive
flood, but no one ever asks why the flood comes,” Xuan said. “We’ve
never carried out an investigation to find that out. We’ve never
wondered why a village can be wiped away in one night or thought about
preventing natural disasters.”

Duong Van Ni, a lecturer at Mekong Delta’s Can Tho University, said, “Forests these days are no longer an ecological system with little human intervention but merely areas where logging and hunting are banned. “(Mangrove) Forests can no longer confront waves and winds, or conserve biological diversity. “Forests are now only for officials to measure for producing annual statistics.”

From the nearest residences to the gold mining sites in the northern
province, xe om driver Khoa charges VND350,000 (US$20). The way is not
far but Khoa says “it’s really tough,” with hills, passes and
makeshift bridges crossing streams.Khoa says gold miners from all over
the country rushed to Vo Nhai District’s Than Sa Commune several years
ago, digging the place up day and night. Site owners spend millions of
dong to build shacks, buy machines, and hire workers. Hung says he and
11 co-workers take turns to work six hours a day each. Site owners
sometimes get 10 kilograms of gold at a time, Khoa says. And every
time the story of the windfall gets around, the number of people
rushing to the area increases.

Arguments and fights ensue, and stabbings happen. On a mountain side at Na Village, shacks are put up in front of the caves that lead 40-50 meters deep into the mountain. Duong Van Khanh, director of Thai Nguyen Province Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said illegal mining in the area was first targeted in 1998. In 2004 officials had to take up the fight again after another gold rush heated up the area in 2002 and 2003. The province People’s Committee recently blacklisted commune and district
officials who granted work permits to many illegal gold mining sites in the province. Earlier this month the committee listed 42 communes in 13 districts as areas accommodating illegal gold mining.

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