Smarter water planning imperative
25 March 21 Vietnam investment review Source With water scarcity increasingly affecting people's livelihood in recent years, Vietnam is being challenged to uncover solutions to ensure water security in the context of climate change and the country's growing economic growth.
Mai Trong Nhuan, vice chairman of the Policy Consultancy Council under the National Committee on Climate Change, told VIR that Vietnam is among the group of nations that have relatively lavish water resources, both in reserves and flow.
"However, these resources are shrinking both in terms of quality and quantity, as pollution became more rampant over the past few years," Nhuan said. "Vietnam's big rivers, like the Red and Thai Binh rivers, and the Mekong River system, swell uncharacteristically large during the rainy season, causing heavy floods and inundation. Still, droughts are common during the dry season, resulting in water shortages for agricultural production in lowland areas."
According to Nhuan, the reasons behind the degradation of the country's water resources and compromised water security include a rise in livelihood activities and climate change. A climb in population, industrial and agricultural production, and natural mineral exploitation activities have been putting pressure on Vietnam's water reserves. Furthermore, several sections of Vietnam's big rivers are heavily polluted by wastewater discharged by industrial production activities. This has reduced the output of river flows and water quality for fisheries and agricultural production. Besides this, an increase in conflicts over cross-border rivers, which account for 63 per cent of Vietnamese river flows, has been challenging the country, especially as upstream hydropower plants are hoarding water in their reservoirs and alter river flows in Vietnam.
"These factors are directly threatening the national water security, food security, economic security, and health security, as well as national defence," Nhuan said.
According to the Department of Water Resources Management (DWRM) at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE), currently, Vietnam has about 3,450 rivers and streams, including 13 major rivers, 392 inter-provincial rivers and streams, and just over 3,000 rivers and streams running within provinces.
All the rivers and streams have a total annual flow of 830-840 billion cubic metres. Geographically, 57 per cent of the total volume is focused on the Mekong Delta basin, 16 per cent in the Red and Thai Binh river basins, and the remainder is centred in other river basins. In terms of time, the total annual flow is large, but largely focused on the rainy season which lasts only three months. In the remaining nine months, the water volume accounts for only 10-15 per cent.
Two-thirds of Vietnam's water resources come from foreign nations. Over many years, upstream nations have been boosting the exploitation of water resources, seriously threatening Vietnam's water resources.
"Along with Vietnam's socioeconomic development, the rising population and urbanisation have resulted in the growing demand for water for living and production, both in terms of quantity and quality," said Chau Tran Vinh, director of the DWRM.
Moreover, due to the lack of physical infrastructure and financial capacity, there is low utilisation of the supply along with an uneven distribution of rainfall resulting in water shortages throughout the country. Although Vietnam has improved its water supply situation in the past few decades, many rural parts of the country which are often the poorest communities, have not seen significant improvements.
The International Water Resources Association places Vietnam among the group of nations facing water shortage, highlighting the country's low average per-capita water use of 3,840cu.m, lower than the global average of 4,000cu.m. According to the MoNRE, mean domestic water use is expected to decline by half by 2025.
New York-based Fluence Corporation, a worldwide leader in decentralised water and wastewater treatment solutions, cited statistics from the MoNRE and Vietnam's Ministry of Health showing that about 9,000 Vietnamese citizens die annually from poor sanitation and degraded water quality, and some 200,000 Vietnamese have developed cancer associated with water pollution.
Last August, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued Directive No.34/CT-TTg, which could help the nation turn the corner on management of its water resources. The directive calls for tight and uninterrupted monitoring of water sources, water production infrastructure, and clean water production. PM Phuc has asked the MoNRE, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Construction to work with one another to formulate solutions against water scarcity and on how to provide sufficient water for the public and businesses, with the environment well protected.
Meanwhile, according to Nhuan, to ensure water security and the usage of water sources, it is imperative to devise groups of solutions regarding planning, management, and sustainable usage of water resources, and smart responses to environmental change. Other groups of solutions are also needed, including benefit sharing, development cooperation, and increasing international cooperation in cross-border water resources management and usage.
"Thus, the government should develop these solutions as soon as possible, so that the country's water security and sustainable development can be ensured," Nhuan said.
Le Thi My Hanh, country representative of the Global Green Growth Institute in Vietnam, told VIR that water reserves in Vietnam are limited. "Thus, resources have to be managed more efficiently during their whole lifecycle, starting from the production of raw materials, transport, processing and consumption to disposal of wastewater," Hanh said. "There are many ways to reduce water use or use water more effective. In any case, do not let water consumption run out of control. It takes a lot of water to produce rice, fruit, and other food. Wasting less food could save significant amount of water. For businesses, it is important to measure and manage water, set targets to reduce and recycle it, and look for ways to make them more efficient. Firms can also provide information for consumers to understand the water impacts of the things they buy." By Khoi Nguyen