According to the United States Geological Survey, Vietnam is estimated to hold the world's third-largest bauxite ore reserves, after Guinea and Australia, which accounts for 14.2% of the world’s reserve . Up to 96% of this reserve is located in the Central Highlands , of which 975 million tons are in Lam Dong province, 18% of Vietnam’s bauxite reserve base . Although the Vietnamese government approved in April 2006 plans to begin mining bauxite reserves in the Central Highlands , it was on November 1, 2007, through the enactment of the Prime Minister’s Decision 167 (Master Plan for Exploration, Mining, Processing and Use of Bauxite Ore in 2007-2015 Period), when the Vietnamese government made official its plan and signed a strategic agreement with the Chinese government to extract bauxite resources in the Central Highlands [2,4]. The Tan Rai project is one of the most important parts of the Master Plan. Between 2007 and 2010, a coordinated opposition was carried out by civil society activists, bloggers, environmentalists, lawyers, religious leaders and senior Communist Party officials, which led to a series of policy debates and high-level reviews of the project’s sustainability, environmental as well as social impact, by various government ministries. A series of letter written by retired General Giap (a heroe of the independence struggle) to the Prime Minister, protesting the government’s plans to go through with the project and warning of China’s invasive economic ties to Vietnam’s core domestic interests, was one of the most effective events at drawing international attention to the issue .
In spite of that, the Vietnamese state-owned corporation Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (VINACOMIN) went ahead with the mining project: construction began on the Tan Rai Plant in 2008 and in early 2012 it began extracting and processing aluminium from its raw source, bauxite [3, 6, 7]. After 5 years of construction and trial, in September, 2013, Tan Rai bauxite complex officially operated . The greatest concern associated with the bauxite mining lies in the impact of the red mud (bauxite residue) and tailing slurry (waste water discharged during the sifting process) on the Central Highlands’ environment of and its downstream region. Containing high levels of metal oxide and sodium hydroxide, the sludge could cause great damage to water supplies and the surrounding agricultural industry (primarily coffee), as well as to the health and safety of thousands of residents in the area [2,3]. Related to that, some scientists have pointed out that the technologies and the technical design of the Tan Rai factory are problematic, given that Chalieco (a subsidiary of the Aluminium Corporation of China, the world’s third-largest aluminium producer), responsible for the construction and design of the alumina plants, has not used advanced technologies [4, 8].
In addition to that, deforestation, increased vulnerability to drought and floods in the lowlands, relocation and population displacement in a region that is traditionally home to hill tribes and indigenous populations, and the large amount of freshwater required for mining bauxite and producing alumina when water scarcity is growing in the Central Highlands, are also a matter of concern .