Drinking from a well of prosperity

March 22, 2009

The tap has yet to fully open to abundant clean water supplies.

LookAtVietnam – Increasing numbers of provinces are no longer suffering from clean water shortages. The availability of adam’s ale not only improves people’s lives, but also helps local economic development.

Nguyen Van Rang, a 55-year-old fisherman in southern Kien Giang province, has regularly used unclean water from nearby ponds and lakes. Every year, things turned worse during the six-month dry season when he had to buy fresh water trucked from the nearest source 25 kilometres away.

Fortunately, things are better now. Three Delta Towns (3DT) Water Supply and Sanitation Project has brought clean running water to Rang’s four-person family since 2004.

“We are not worried anymore. Clean water is available round the clock like a dream come true. We don’t have to suffer from eye and skin related diseases like before,” Rang said.

A deluge of fortune

Rang is one in 280,000 people in Mekong Delta region benefiting from the joint Australian and Vietnamese government-funded 3DT Project.
Over the past seven years, almost $52 million has been spent improving water supply and sanitation in Bac Lieu, Ha Tien and Sa Dec towns and developing local institutions and community group capacities to manage the systems on a sustainable basis.

GHD Vietnam’s general director Glen Reinsch said the project had been successful in improving quality of people’s lives in a rapidly deteriorating environment.

“The project is very close to completion with infrastructure works progressively being handed to the Vietnamese people,” said Reinsch.
GHD Vietnam, the project’s Australian managing contractor, managed all procurement activities for electrical and mechanical equipment and materials purchased by Australia.

With water treatment works built in Bac Lieu, Ha Tien and Sa Dec, safe drinking water is now provided to about 28,000 households, or 140,000 people, representing almost 50 per cent of the population. The coverage of water supply in three towns’ urban areas has risen to 75 per cent and will hit 95 per cent by the end of 2009.

Ha Tien town’s people’s committee vice chairman Diep Phi Hung said that by the end of 2002, the old 600 cubic-metre per day water treatment facility was just enough to serve 1,000 households. With 3DT project’s new water treatment works, up to 5,054 households, making up 70 per cent of the town’s population, now have access to safe and clean water.

“The availability of clean water has enabled Ha Tien developing a new urban area expected to take on 20,000-25,000 new residents during 2010-2015,” said Hung. “Over the past year, clean water shortages hindered the development of the town’s tourism industry. We now expect the number of tourists to double annually,” he added.

Tourism makes up 35-40 per cent of the town’s income with around 800,000 tourists coming annually. For years before 2004, hotels in Ha Tien could not have enough clean water for tourists. Tong Kim Quang, chairman of Sa Dec town’s people’s committee in Dong Thap province, said the town, the provincial economic hub, had lured more foreign investors since the 3DT project.

“Since we got enough clean running water three years ago, we have attracted five more foreign direct investors,” said Quang. Dong Thap province only has 13 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects. “These five FDI projects have created jobs for thousands of people in the town. Clean water is now available, thus, we could expect more investors coming to Dong Thap,” said Quang.

The 3DT project has built a clean water works with capacity of 20,000 cubic meters per day for Sa Dec and 90 per cent of the town’s 110,000 people have been provided with running water. “It is hard to provide a concrete figure, but the clean water supply system has obviously boosted local economic development,” said Quang.

Sanitation for sustainability

Previously, in Bac Lieu and Sa Dec, about a third of households had no toilet, while the figure was more than half in Ha Tien. Pit latrines, “fish pond toilets”, temporary structures built over river or canal, or open defecation in fields were common, leading to environmental and health issues. With the 3DT project’s loans scheme, Tran Kim Hien, a farmer in Sa Dec town, had enough money to build a real “water closet” toilet. “With the clean toilets, we feel we are healthier,” said Hien.

The Sanitation Credit Scheme, still in operation today, has resulted in the installation of more than 4,400 septic tank toilets in households across the three towns. The scheme provided seed funding to the Townships’ Women’s Unions (TWU) to provide loans to install toilets. Households borrowed about VND2.5 million, paying the money back to the TWU over one to two years at about 1 per cent interest rate.

Reinsch said that the project had contributed to the community development and capacity building. Sa Dec Women Union’s chairwoman Nguyen Thi Phi Yen admitted that project staff training sessions on credit extension and management have enabled Women Union officials to operate the scheme after the project was over.

Quang said improved household sanitation and waste collection and treatment in the town had resulted in cleaner environment and reduced water-borne illnesses. A recent survey of households showed a 75 per cent decrease in diarrhea and eye and skin-related problems, a 90 per cent decrease in women’s gynecological problems and a 95 per cent reduction in internal worm problems in three towns.

Previously, the towns had limited facilities for solid waste collection. Domestic waste was deposited and collected from the streets and frequently ended up in the sea or canals, or dumped on vacant land. As a result, leach ate seeped into the groundwater and polluted local crops. But with the rubbish bins, pedicarts and compactor trucks provided by 3DT project, waste collection has been improved and uncontrolled rubbish dump sites have been replaced with new sanitary landfills.

Also in recent survey conducted in the three towns, more than 90 per cent of households said their area was cleaner than five years ago. Tran Kim Hien said that Sa Dec was lucky to be included in the project. Previously, many schools in Bac Lieu, Sa Dec and Ha Tien had inadequate or poorly maintained sanitation facilities. The toilets were sub-standard and smelly. Clean water and soap not always available and some parents expressed concern that the poor facilities put their children off going to school.

3DT’s Schools Sanitation Programme provided funding for 30 schools to upgrade or install toilets, urinals, hand washing facilities, drinking fountains and water tanks. Trung Vuong primary school’s principle in Sa Dec Ngo Thuy Anh said that students were previously afraid of going to toilets due to unhygienic conditions. “But now, they are coming into toilets with smiles,” said Anh.

Reinsch said the assistance to upgrade the toilets for school was one of the most meaningful parts of the project. “Children most need a clean environment and sanitation as they are most vulnerable to diseases,” he said.


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