SACRAMENTO, CA — Vietnam’s two largest cities, Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City in the south, have announced two significant initiatives to secure safe and reliable water for a substantial portion of its population. These are in addition to a directive the national government signed in early 2020 to combat water insecurity. These initiatives illustrate the latest effort in the Vietnamese government’s decades-long fight to supply safe drinking water for 100% of its population. More importantly, it signals the government’s continued commitment to water security in Vietnam.
Millennium Development Goal
In early 2000, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) set out to revolutionize water safety and sanitation in its country. This commitment was translated into the Millennium Development Goal (MDG). The targets of the MDG were to achieve improved water security in Vietnam by providing 82% to 62% of the population with access to clean water and improved sanitation, respectively.
At the time, the MDG targets seemed purely aspirational. Just 25 years ago, roughly 40% of Vietnamese did not have access to safe sources of drinking water. As a result, diseases such as cholera and typhoid were common with high levels of diarrhea and child mortalities. Nonetheless, the CPV created the three-phase National Rural Clean Water Supply and Sanitation Strategy. The government’s call to action set its targets even higher than the MDG by calling for universal access to clean water.
New Lending Models and Regulations
Yet, the strategy was more than just a call to action. “In 2008, Viet Nam issued regulations to all urban water companies to implement water safety plans.” Only four years later, it took the regulations further by requiring all 68 water suppliers in Vietnam to implement reforms. These reforms aim to improve water security in Vietnam by eliminating contamination and prevent recontamination while storing and distributing water.
During its third phase, beginning in 2013, Vietnam utilized the World Bank’s Programs for Results lending model. This model of lending drives results by linking on-the-ground successes with financing. For example, communes would only be qualified to receive funding if they met the following criteria:
- clean water and hygienic facilities must be available in 100% of public schools and health centers
- at least 70% of households must meet the government standard hygiene and sanitation
- 100% of households must have a latrine of some kind.
Without a doubt, it has made significant inroads toward this goal. As of 2015, 98% of its population, or 90 million people, had access to improved drinking water. Between 2013 and 2018, “1.8 million people gained access to clean water.” Meanwhile, the regulations cut “the construction time of water and sanitation infrastructure” by 58% and costs by 63%.
The CPV has made extraordinary progress, yet problems remain. The Environment and Health Ministry claims that “9,000 people die every year due to poor sanitation and water quality, and some 200,000 have cancer linked to water pollution.” Moreover, Vietnam still faces hurdles toward providing clean water to 100% of its population. Flooding, pollution, competing for water during the dry season and contaminants in the water supplies have contributed to a deterioration in clean water supplies.
The World Bank argues that the impact of water pollution on human health is the greatest threat to the Vietnamese economy. It further argues that if these challenges are not met by the year 2035, Vietnam could see a 6% annual reduction in GDP.
Vietnam Signals its Commitment
Nonetheless, with three key initiatives, the government has illustrated a commitment to reaching its goal of improving water security in Vietnam.
- Firstly, the Hanoi Water initiative comes from the Hanoi Department of Construction. The department has vowed to supply access to clean water for “50 communes with 120,000 households in” Hanoi’s suburbs. If successful, the proportion of households with access to clean tap water will increase to 85%. To achieve this initiative, the department is focusing on local investment toward water supply projects and submit more public water projects.
- Secondly, the Ho Chi Minh Pipeline is a $40 million project to increase tap water supply to Binh Canh District. This neglected district is just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Although existing pipes technically reach the Binh Canh district, it is at the end of the pipe system. As a result, they experienced weak water flow, and in dry months, no water at all. This project will extend the pipeline and increase its diameter to 1-1.5 meters. It will also eventually link to “the water system of the Mekong Delta’s Long An Province.”
- Finally, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued Directive 34/CT-TTG. The directive is meant to improve the management of clean water sources by “asking ministries, agencies and stakeholders to complete legal frameworks and adopt new models and new technologies to ensure sufficient clean water.” At its core, the directive calls for new research and investing models in managing clean water supplies better.
If nothing else, these initiatives signal a government still committed to supplying safe water access for its population. Although the system is not perfect, water security in Vietnam is still a priority.
– Vincenzo Caporale