Garment factories, fish processing facilities, traffic signals and everything else that runs on electricity in 22 Vietnamese provinces shut down this week for half a day when a crane operator accidentally knocked down a tree — and cut the power supply for a third of the country.
Accidents happen, but this one heightened investors’ anxieties about Vietnam. As global manufacturers rush to Vietnam as an otherwise stable, lower-cost alternative to almost every other country in Asia, some of them wonder if Vietnam can keep with the surging demands on its transportation and energy infrastructure.
The country has been rapidly modernizing roads, seaports, airports, and energy supply — including oil refineries, hydroelectric facilities, and planning for two nuclear power plants — much to the chagrin of environmentalists concerned this is happening at the expense of Vietnam’s health and culture. They may have considered the brief delay in economic expansion a breath of fresh air.
For a few hours, restaurants served tourists by candlelight. Water supplies began to dry up. Factories shut down. Traffic jammed, especially near nonfunctional traffic lights.
When a tree falls in a developing country, the sound you hear is usually called progress. But when this particular tree fell on the nation’s main high voltage transmission line, the air conditioners stopped. And the sound the government heard was sweaty criticism of the state-owned electricity company.