Vietnam's government has ordered the relocation of more than 8,600 people from the site of a reservoir for a huge hydro-electric dam by November, an official working on the project said Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered the state-run Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) and the northwestern provinces of Son La, Dien Bien and Lai Chau to speed up relocation, the official said.
"The government asked us to prepare the relocation zones so that we can begin building the hydroelectric dam by blocking the waters of the Da river in November," said Dinh Van Thoat, of the Son La provincial committee in charge of the population transfer.
A total of 91,000 people are to be relocated from the areas to be flooded by 2010. The hydroelectric dam is expected to begin generating power in 2012, with full operations planned by 2015.
Already 4,000 people have been moved.
"We have an enormous amount of work to do urgently to accomplish the task," Thoat told AFP. "However, we have already done the ground work for the population relocation."
Vietnam's parliament approved in late 2002 the construction of the 2.46 billion-dollar project after the government scaled down its size in the face of objections on human and safety grounds.
Son La is located in an area of seismic activity, and legislators were concerned an earthquake could unleash a torrent of water, threatening Hanoi, some 300 kilometres (188 miles) southeast.
Officials say ethnic minorities make up as much 80 percent of the total number of people set to be moved. The main bulk of the relocation is expected to take place between this year and 2010.
Electricity demand has risen on average by 13 percent to 15 percent annually in the past few years in Vietnam. According to government estimates, about 70 billion to 80 billion kilowatts of power will be needed in 2010.
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