Overview of water resources management in Vietnam

5 July, 2021

This is the first article in a series on water resources management in Vietnam posted by Dr. Trần Thị Nguyệt. Nguyệt gained a master’s degree in waste management and contaminated site treatment in Vietnam in 2007 and further qualified with a Ph.D. in material flow analysis in the field of environmental engineering in Germany in 2018. From 2008 to 2013, she worked for international research projects related to water and waste issues in Vietnam.

Enjoy the compact overview and hopefully gain some new insights on Vietnam’s situation on water resources.

1. Water potential and usage structure

  • Water potential

Vietnam has a dense and diverse system of 2360 rivers longer than 10 km1–3. The annual average precipitation is 1840 mm (1991-2020)4. The potential of freshwater is 830 to 840 billion cubic meters (m3) per year for surface water runoff and 47.5 to 63 billion m3/year for underground water3,6. With 9434 m3/capita/year, the total water availability in Vietnam is abundant compared to the regional and global standard. The internal renewable water resources in Vietnam is 4200 m3/capita/year, ranking low in the Southeast Asia with 4900 m3/year5. Water is unevenly temporally and spatially distributed and about 63% of surface water in Vietnam originates from upstream foreign countries3,6.

  • Usage structure

In general, the total water use accounts for approx. 10% of overall water potential or ca. 30% internal water potential (i.e., 37% of water runoff is within Vietnam’s territory). Demand on water resources is increasing due to economic development, urbanization, and population growth. According to the estimate of the World Bank (WB), the water consumption of Vietnam in 2016 was 95 billion m3, in which agriculture accounts for the largest share of 91%, followed by industry (6%) and municipal activities (3%)3. However, this share is expected to change because of the increasing rates of water consumption for industrial sector and domestic activities as illustrated in figure 1.

Figure 1: Water use structure in 2016 and projection in 2020, 2030 in Vietnam (adapted from 2030WRG3)

2. Water insecurity

As stated by a recent study of the World Bank, the water situation in Vietnam is “too much, too little, too dirty”. This statement reflects the uneven temporal and spatial water distribution (too much water in rainy season, too little water in dry season) and severe water pollution (too dirty) 5. The situation is even more severe under the impact of climate change. One of the biggest challenges of water in Vietnam is water pollution and subsequently water (in)availability due to reduced water quality. Water scarcity and partial water shortage, especially in dry season in Central Vietnam and Mekong Delta, is another issue, leading to the unhealthy competition among sectors. Dependency on transboundary surface water, especially irrigated agriculture in Mekong Delta, is challenging making the water resources unsustainable. Another aspect of water insecurity is the imbalance of increasing water demand and water supply capacity. The last challenge is the increase in quantity and severity of climate related water disasters. The water issues are attributed to (1) unsustainable water resources management, (2) rapid rates of population growth, industrialization and urbanization, that have outpaced water availability and sanitation infrastructure systems in Vietnam, and (3) transboundary water dependency3,5.

3. Legal and institutional framework

Legal system: Vietnam has a complex legal system of water resources management. The law on water resources was established in 1998. Besides, water resources are also governed by the Law on Environmental Protection, Law on Irrigation and several other ones. According to experts, the significant issue of legal documents on water resources as they lack detailed guidance and are overlapping, fragmented, inconsistent, and instable3,5,7.

Institutional governance: Two major ministries are responsible for water resources, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). However, there are overlapping, confusing, and fragmented responsibilities not only between these two ministries and but also with other ministries. Subsequently, the weak coordination among public authorities leads to ineffective and unsustainable water resources governance5–8. Integrated water resources management has almost not been practiced effectively in Vietnam.

4. International agreements and cooperation

Vietnam started its first international water cooperation in 1957 through the Mekong Committee with Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand9–11. The country has increasingly ratified international water related agreements since being a member of UN in 1977 and after the renovation policy “Đổi mới” in 1986. As a result, Vietnam has actively joined the global community to cooperate in the field of water. Germany, the Netherland, and Japan, for example, are some of the major international partners.  

5. Outlook and investment opportunities for water sector in Vietnam

Improving the enforcement of legal and institutional framework on water resources to implement the concept of integrated water resource management would be decisive to solve the water challenges in Vietnam. Besides effectively involving in international collaboration to tackle esp. relevant issues of transboundary water and benefit advanced technologies and management of water, particularly in the era of digitalization. An increasing demand is expected on cooperation and investments in wastewater treatment technologies, water supply, transboundary water, and smart water management.

As follow-up, the next articles will provide more detailed analyses on challenges, legal framework, international cooperation, and an outlook and investment opportunities for the water sector in Vietnam.


(1) MONRE. Báo Cáo Môi Trường Quốc Gia 2012 – Môi Trường Nước Mặt [National Environmental Status Report 2012 – Surface Water]; Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, 2012.

(2) Lê Xuân Định; Nguyễn Mạnh Quân; Đặng Bảo Hà; Phùng Anh Tiến. Quản Lý Tổng Hợp Tài Nguyên Nước – Tình Hình Quản Lý Tài Nguyên Nước Tại Việt Nam [Integrated Water Resources Management – State of Water Resources Management in Vietnam]; Cục thông tin khoa học và công nghệ quốc gia, 2015.

(3) 2030-WRG. Vietnam: Hydro-Economic Framework for Assessing Water Sector Challenges; 2030 Water Resources Group, 2017.

(4) World Bank. World Bank Climate Change Knowledge Portal: Vietnam https://climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org/ (accessed 2021 -06 -25).

(5) WB. Vietnam: Toward a Safe, Clean, and Resilient Water System; World Bank, 2019.

(6) MONRE. Báo cáo hiện trạng môi trường quốc gia năm 2018 Chuyên đề: Môi trường nước lưu vực sông – Cục Quản lý tài nguyên nước http://dwrm.gov.vn/index.php?language=vi&nv=download&op=Sa-ch-Ta-i-lieu-tham-kha-o/Bao-cao-hien-trang-moi-truong-quoc-gia-nam-2018-Chuyen-de-Moi-truong-nuoc-luu-vuc-song (accessed 2019 -09 -11).

(7) Nguyễn, L. T. P. Khung Pháp Lý về Tài Nguyên Nước ở Việt Nam [Legal Framework of Water Resources in Vietnam]; Nhà xuất bản đại học Cần Thơ, 2010.

(8) Nguyễn, T. P. L. The Legal Framework of Vietnam’s Water Sector: Update 2013 https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/52996/ (accessed 2019 -12 -20).

(9) Eyler, B. The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong; Zed Books, 2019.

(10) Mekong River Commission (MRC). History of Mekong River Commission https://www.mrcmekong.org/about/mrc/history/ (accessed 2021 -06 -25).

(11) UN Water. International Decade for Action “Water for Life” 2005-2015. Focus Areas: Transboundary waters https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/transboundary_waters.shtml (accessed 2021 -06 -25).