Water sector in Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The risks for the country’s industry and agriculture are substantial. The Netherlands and Vietnam have been longstanding cooperation partners on water and climate change. In 2010 the two countries signed a Strategic Partnership Arrangement (SPA). Under the SPA an integrated, long-term Mekong Delta Plan was developed to respond to climate change and to ensure the sustainable socio-economic development of the Mekong Delta. In addition, both countries are working together on the development plan called ‘Ho Chi Minh City moving towards the sea with climate change adaptation. The implementation of these plans provides interesting business leads for Dutch companies with expertise in delta technology, food security, urban water management, water technology, governance, capacity building and in related sectors, such as the maritime industry, energy and agriculture.

Water and climate change in VIetnam

Vietnam has a long history of dealing with extreme weather. Located in a typhoon zone, with a long coastline and extensive river deltas, it is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Climate change models predict that large parts of the country may end up under water. The risk of climate change for the country’s industry and agriculture are therefore substantial. On average, there are six to eight typhoons each year. Many leave an extensive trail of destruction and are killing and injuring people, damaging homes and fishing boats, and destroying crops. The country’s 8,000 km of sea and river dykes, some of which have been developed through communal labour over centuries, reflects the national investment in risk management.

The Mekong Delta is an area of special concern. One of the most densely populated parts of Vietnam, it is home to 17.2 million people (around 20% of the total population). It is also the rice bowl of the country, playing a critical role in national food security. The Mekong Delta produces half of Vietnam’s rice and an even larger share of fisheries and fruit products.

Climate change poses threats at several levels. Rainfall is predicted to increase and the country will face more intensive tropical storms. Sea levels are expected to rise by 33 cm by 2050 and 1 metre by 2100. For the low-lying Mekong Delta this is a particularly grim forecast. The sea level rise projected for 2030 would expose around 45% of the Delta’s land area to extreme salinisation and crop damage through flooding. Crop productivity for rice is forecast to fall by 9%. If sea levels rise by 1 metre, much of the Delta would be completely inundated for some periods of the year. A displacement of up to 22 million people will be reality, with losses of up to 10% of GDP.

Traditionally, the focus of the water and climate sector has been on irrigation, drainage, and flood control as agriculture comprises 93% of demand for water resources and 60% of the country’s population lives in typhoon-prone areas. With Vietnam’s adoption of the Millennium Development Goals increased attention is paid to rural water supply and sanitation since water pollution and waste water management are emerging challenges related to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. The main development goal of the sector in the next 15 years comprises the effective protection, efficient exploitation, and sustainable development of water resources on the basis of an integrated water resource management.

Serious developmental challenges to the sector are:

  • increasing water scarcity and intersectoral competition, which are not matched by the development of adequate water allocation mechanisms;
  • the worsening water quality;
  • water services and investment, including in irrigation, do not meet diversifying demands;
  • the excessive risks of natural water- related hazards (floods) and coastal zone resources degradation.

Since 1998, river basin organisations are being established for integrated water resource planning across provinces in important river basins e.g. those of the Red, Mekong and Dong Nai rivers. Their work is affected by the absence of clear responsibilities of concerned agencies and effective coordinating bodies at the regional level.

Dutch - Vietnamese cooperation in water and climate

Vietnam with over 26% of land below sea level is similar to the Netherlands, as we have always had to protect ourselves from the risk of floods as well. To survive, the Dutch had to be inventive and develop a highly sophisticated means of water management. In fact, the high population density combined with an economy largely related to transport, navigation and ports, results in pressure on space and environment that has to be managed carefully. By involving relevant stakeholders and designing sustainable engineering and ‘smart’ infrastructure for complex settings, standards of Dutch water management are very high.

Since both Vietnam and the Netherlands are facing challenges with regard to coastal zone management, flood control and adaptation to climate change, there is a solid basis for continued cooperation. Vietnam has received extensive development assistance from the Netherlands in the water and climate sector since 1998. Now that Vietnam is moving towards becoming a middle income country, the nature of that cooperation will no more exclusively focus on development assistance. In fact, there will be increased opportunities for cooperation with knowledge institutes, civil society and the private sector. Vietnam is keen to benefit from Dutch knowledge and experience. The Netherlands has selected Vietnam as one of five delta countries for intensive cooperation in the field of water management and climate change adaptation.

In the coming years the focus of cooperation will be on integrated water resources management, flood control, delta technology and coastal zone management to assist Vietnam in preparing its response to pressing issues caused by climate change, pollution, environmental degradation and natural disasters.

The cooperation between Vietnam and The Netherlands is focused on the following themes:

  • Integrated River Basin Management
  • Integrated Coastal Zone Management
  • Natural Disaster Mitigation
  • General Sector Support
  • Water Supply and Sanitation

The program of cooperation focuses on institutional development, capacity development, research, and investment, which are believed to represent the most effective approach and to provide most added value. It is expected that the focus of Dutch support in the future will shift towards promoting the establishment of Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and the transfer of critical specific know-how (for instance, through joint research programs) in priority sectors where the Dutch embassy has a track record. The geographical focus of the bilateral cooperation on water and climate change will be on the Mekong Delta, including the greater Ho Chi Minh City area. The latter includes four provinces that are defined as the Vietnam Key Economic Zone and which are subject to industrial, agricultural and environmental challenges on a scale and complexity comparable to the Netherlands.

In 2010 a Strategic Partnership Arrangement was signed between the Vietnamese Ministries of Natural Resources and Environment and Agriculture and Rural Development on the one hand, and the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management on the other. This Partnership stipulates that bilateral cooperation will focus on the following areas:

  • Water & Climate Change Adaptation: Support to the National Target Program on Climate Change, with specific emphasis on the Mekong Delta and HCMC, through technology transfer, technical assistance, capacity strengthening and climate integrated strategic environmental assessments.
  • Water & Safety: Assistance to reduce vulnerability to floods and flood disasters caused by failure or inappropriateness of structural interventions.
  • Water for Food and Ecosystems: Continuation of inter-departmental and inter-ministerial dialogue and collaboration to address the issues of water for food and ecosystems.
  • Drinking Water & Sanitation: Support to the National Target Programme for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (phase II) to increase the coverage of water supply and sanitation facilities and to promote hygiene. Public-private partnerships between Vitens Evides and the drink water company in HCMC (SAWACO) and in Danang (DAWACO) will continue to be supported in order to strengthen the water supply utilities in HCMC and Danang.
  • Water Governance: Both governments will cooperate to strengthen legislation, policies, sustainable financing mechanisms and strategies on integrated water resources management.

A new theme of cooperation between Vietnam and the Netherlands is the nexus between water and agriculture. Recently the Vice Minister of Agriculture of the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands visited Vietnam and paid special attention to this theme. Food security is without a doubt strongly intertwined with water security. For example, themes as climate change play a part in both sectors and cooperation between them is essential for future development.