Challenges of water resources management in Vietnam and examples of present efforts: WATER SCARCITY AND PARTIAL WATER SHORTAGE IN DRY SEASON

24 February, 2022

This article belongs to the water series, specifically about water resources management challenges in Vietnam. The first and second articles are about “Overview of water resources management in Vietnam” and “Challenges of water resources management in Vietnam and examples of present efforts: WATER POLLUTION”. The next article will be about the challenge of the dependency on transboundary water.

Watching a CNA’s documentary film “The Longest Day – S1E1: Water1 describing the historical water shortage in the Mekong Delta in 2020 (with a story about a durian farmer in Tiền Giang province of Vietnam against the long drought) and other countries in Asia, I felt sorry for those people. However, I also find myself lucky that I have never experienced a water shortage. In this sense, I associate this feeling with our circumstances in Vietnam. I am wondering if you are annoyed, e.g. when you see someone let the water run continuously from the kitchen faucet while washing dishes or rinsing off vegetables? Why don’t they fill up a sink with water for the washing and then turn off the faucet? From my observation, this phenomenon is not rare in Vietnam, at least from my circle of acquaintances in Hà Nội. I once asked my cousin why she did so when we were together preparing for dinner. “No big deal as water is so cheap!”, she reasoned. Is that the major reason for that practice or bad habit and that we often take water for granted? Are my cousin and possibly many other people, who often practice this, not fully aware of the water scarcity and preciousness, which is currently a daily reality in other parts of the world like some African countries and even in some areas in Vietnam? Let’s explore the situation of water scarcity and water shortage in Vietnam:

Water stress already exists in Vietnam and not only in the Central Highlands

According to the World Bank, at the nationwide scale, water scarcity is not an issue for Vietnam, even until 2030. However, because water is unevenly allocated across the country in terms of time and space, there is existing water stress at the river basin level [The level of water stress: “is the ratio between total freshwater withdrawn by all major sectors and total renewable freshwater resources, after taking into account environmental water requirements2]. Particularly, the river basin of Sesan Srêpốk in the Central Highlands has been already experiencing severe water shortage. It is projected that by 2030 the majority of river basins in Vietnam may face water stress. However, if including water storage for hydropower generation, water stress has been occurred at the severe level in river basins of Red River and Thái Bình river in the North, Đồng Nai river in the Central Highlands, and in Mekong river in the South3.

Shortage of irrigation water due to competition with hydropower plants

At certain places, water use conflicts arise between hydropower plants, agriculture, and domestic use as a consequence of the lack of coordination in water regulation among these sectors. The following are several examples:
– Bắc Cạn province, northwest of Vietnam, February 2021: farmers worried about water shortage and pollution when Thác Giềng 1 hydropower stored water. This led to the lowest water flow ever and signal of water pollution in the downstream of Cầu river in Chợ Mới district4.

– Kon Tum province, Central Highlands of Vietnam at the beginning of 2021: Đăk Pône 2AB hydropower plant stored water, causing water shortage in Đăk Rve town, Kon Rẫy district and subsequently seriously affected crops and domestic activities. In March 2020, many crops in Tân Lập commune, Kon Rẫy district died due to hydropower plants stored water in the upstream of Đăk Snghé river5,6.

Shortage of clean water due to pollution

River water pollution and environmental incidents have led to partial water shortage as Vietnam mainly uses surface water for drinking water supply.
– Hà Nội shockingly experienced an environmental incident of oil-contaminated tap water in October 2019 due to an illegal dumping of nearly nine tons of used oil in a creek in Hòa Bình province, upstream of Đà river – the water source for the local drinking water supply plant company, named VIWA SUPCO. The incident led to serious tap water pollution causing a water crisis and accommodation disorder for hundred thousand Hanoians for days7.

– Đà Nẵng has been confronted with water shortage for years. The major reason here is the construction and operation of Đắk Mi hydropower plant. Specifically, this hydropower plant diverts water flow from Vu Gia to Thu Bồn river, resulting in a significant reduction of water volume in Vu Gia river. Subsequently, this leads to increasing saline intrusion, water quality reduction, and severe impact on water supply for the city8–11.

Shortage of fresh water due to climate-induced droughts and saline intrusion

Climate change has intensified drought events and subsequently salinity. In Vietnam, this phenomenon hits the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands the most. In 2020, the Mekong provinces experienced the historic and worst drought and salinity ever. This caused significant economic losses, the local government had to provide artificial water, massive crops died and residents had to purchase water to irrigate crops and for daily needs. Six provinces, Sóc Trăng, Tiền Giang, Bến Tre, Long An, Kiên Giang, and Cà Mau declared an emergency in the early months of 202012–16.

Examples of present efforts:

– Investing in smart water supply systems to promote real-time monitoring and warning, to prevent the rate of water leakage, integrated water resources management to facilitate the coordination have been discussed and applied to some certain extent so far to overcome the above-mentioned situation. However, this has been not a common practice (and can of course not produce/generate/deliver water when there is none). An example of this is the application of smart water supply management in province Bình Dương, Quảng Ninh, and Hải Dương (presentations of VIETWATER 2021). However, this has not been a common trend in Vietnam.

– Integrated plans for river basins of Sê San and Srêpốk to apply integrated water resources management were approved at the end of 2021 17,18.

– Construction of water retention reservoirs, new water supply plants, and tightening the law on industrial wastewater treatment have been implemented. For example, HCMC plans to construct a reservoir with a storage capacity of 5 million m3 to confront water shortages due to pollution and saline intrusion of surface river water. The reservoir will be constructed one kilometer upstream from the confluence of the Sài Gòn and Thị Tính rivers19.

– The past experience has trained the Mekong Delta residents, scientists, and local authorities to be more prepared. Examples of these are simple measures like storage of rainy water, shifting to more salt and drought tolerating plants in agriculture, but also investing and research on prediction and monitoring of drought and salinity, construction of water reservoirs and water supply works, application of advanced irrigation technology, etc. Further implementation of Resolution 120/NQ-CP (2017) on sustainable and climate-resilient development of the Mekong Delta is also expected to bring positive changes in terms of water management for the Mekong River Delta. As it is necessary to coordinate the various actions, some other measures include: The construction and establishment of the Mekong Delta Data Center in Cần Thơ by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, under the framework of the World Bank’s project “Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods in the Mekong Delta”. The Center is expected to support the decision making on sustainable development of the Mekong Delta in the context of climate change. Furthermore, a Mekong Delta Resilient Business Network was established in July 2021, aiming to develop climate change adaptation for enterprises in Mekong Delta20.

Back to the attitude of many people towards water, I hope there will soon be not only improved awareness at least on the limitation and alarming quality reduction of water resources but also a legally valid price mechanism for drinking water in Vietnam so that we will not take water for granted anymore.

This article was compiled by Dr. Trần Thị Nguyệt and constructively reviewed by Dr. Ute Arnold.


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