environment international |
Water quality management in Viet Nam
Sara L. Bennett, Environment Specialist, Water Environment International/nhc,
Nguyen Thai Lai, Head, Bureau for Water Environment Management, Ministry
of Agriculture and Rural Development, Viet Nam
This paper was originally published in: Reaching
the Unreached - Challenges for the 21st Century, 22nd Water Engineering
& Development Centre (WEDC) Conference, New Delhi India 1996, pp31-33.
NB: this online version is for general information only. Published
version is authoritative.
Viet Nam is undergoing a period of rapid economic and demographic change,
and water quality conditions and management needs are evolving rapidly.
Since the adoption in 1986 of the policy of doi moi (economic renovation)
and particularly since the lifting of the U.S. embargo in 1994, the role
of market forces and private enterprise has been expanding rapidly. Agricultural
output has been increasing, driven in part by increased use of pesticides
and fertilizers. Industrial development is being actively promoted, particularly
through joint ventures between domestic and foreign firms. Environmental
laws are beginning to be passed and enforced, but historically industrial
wastes have been discharged to the environment without treatment.
There will be numerous implications for water quality management, similar
to those experienced by other developing countries in Asia, but occurring
if anything even more rapidly as the economy appears set to undergo a particularly
As an integral part of doi moi, the Government of Vietnam is currently
engaged in radical reorganization and reform of the institutional framework.
With respect to environment and water, this includes inter alia:
2. Institutional Framework
At present, water quality management in Viet Nam is not unitary but rather
involves a mosaic of institutions and programmes:
Creation of a National Environment Agency in the early 1990s
Passage of the first national environmental law in 1994
Amalgamation of three ministries responsible for resource management (Agriculture
and Food Industry; Water Resources; and Forestry) into one ministry (Agriculture
and Rural Development or MARD) in 1995
Placement of many formerly public sector, government-controlled enterprises
(e.g. design, construction, water supply, and irrigation companies) on
an increasingly independent footing with respect to finances and management
The drafting of a new Water Law by MARD for consideration by the legislature,
which would put in place comprehensive new rules for water sector institutions
and water users.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) of the Ministry of Science, Technology,
and Environment (MOSTE) is charged with overall responsibility for environmental
monitoring and data and environmental assessment. Working with the Departments
(DOSTE) in each province and each major city, MOSTE is currently engaged
in the assessment of the environment effects of existing installations;
in environmental impact assessment of proposed new industrial and other
developments; and in establishing environmental monitoring activities.
NEA/MOSTE has expressed an interest in being the Viet Nam focal point for
the GEMS/Water programme (as have one or more other agencies, and a decision
from UNEP/GEMS is reportedly forthcoming). MOSTE also includes the agency
responsible for national standards, including water quality standards and
water quality analysis standards.
MARD includes several agencies with water quality management-related responsibilities:
The Hydrometeorological Service (HMS), separated in the 1970s from the
former Ministry of Water Resources, has an extensive national network of
hydrological and meteorological stations, and in some locations water quality
measurements as well. They are the official link through a National Committee
to the UNESCO International Hydrologic Programme (IHP) (HMS, 1994).
The Ministry of Construction is preparing an Urban Water Supply Strategy
and an Urban Drainage Strategy. The National Steering Committee for Safe
Water and Environmental Sanitation, formed in recent months and reporting
to the Premier, is headed by the Minister of Construction, and includes
representatives from a wide range of ministries including Public Health,
Science Technology Environment, MARD, Defense, etc.
Urban piped water supply companies and sewage services are under the purview
each municipality's People's Committee.
The Ministry of Public Health is responsible for domestic water quality
(water-borne diseases continue to be one of the major public health problems
in the country). Another concern is safe water supply and proper waste
disposal for hospitals and other health facilities.
The General Statistics Office, historically responsible for socioeconomic
statistics, has begun to take an interest in environmental statistics,
as evidenced by its participation in an Asian Development Bank (ADB) regional
technical assistance based on the United Nations environmental statistics
framework (UN, 1984).
In addition to these government agencies, private environmental consulting
and technology supply companies are emerging, in many cases out of existing
public-sector entities such as universities and research labs that are
experiencing a diminution of government support. Private professional associations
would be a highly desirable development - in countries where they exist,
this type of organization provides numerous important services - but this
seems as yet in its infancy.
At present, there is no interministerial body specifically addressing consultation/coordination
related to national water quality management/monitoring, though at least
four national committees are potential players in this area (National Mekong
Committee, UNESCO IHP National Committee, the Pesticide Registration Council,
and the new National Steering Committee for Safe Water and Environmental
The Bureau of Water Environment Management (until recently part of the
Institute of Water Resources Planning and Management) is responsible for
state management activities relating to water environment management, including
national water quality monitoring.
Since 1985, the Sub-Institute of Water Resources Planning in Ho Chi Minh
City has been monitoring the lower Mekong River, with assistance from the
Swedish International Development Agency and in partnership with the Mekong
River Commission and the GEMS/Water Programme (Hoang Trong Quang, 1990).
MARD now houses the government unit - formerly with the Ministry of Labour,
Invalid, and Social Affairs - that is working with the UNICEF WATSAN project
to develop safe rural drinking water supplies throughout the country. WATSAN
has commissioned a number of studies of rural water quality which constitute
perhaps the most extensive data set of this type in the country (Le The
Thu et al., 1993; WATSAN Ref. Cent., 1993; Nguyen Tat Ha et al., 1994).
MARD also includes the national agencies responsible for pesticide regulation
Within each province, there is a Provincial Agriculture and Rural Development
Service (PARS) composed of the former provincial agriculture, water resources,
and forestry services. Development of a regional water quality monitoring
programme and laboratory for the Central Highlands is being undertaken
with the local PARS (Upper Srepok Basin Project, 1995).
Linked to MARD are the Irrigation Management Companies, which are responsible
for the operation and maintenance of specific irrigation schemes. The IMCs
function as both suppliers to and acceptors of (polluted) discharges from
agriculture and all other users in their areas and are increasingly being
affected by water quality issues.
3. A Summary of Water Quality Issues in Two Irrigation Schemes in
the Red River Delta
Under an ADB technical assistance project with MARD called "Capacity Building
in the Water Resources Sector," (TA-2) on which the authors of this paper
are currently working, environmental surveys of two irrigation projects
in the RRD, Bac Hung Hai (southeast of Hanoi) and An Kim Hai (immediately
upstream of Haiphong), were undertaken in early 1996. A number of water
quality issues were identified, some of which are summarized below.
As throughout the RRD (GOV/MOSTE, 1994), the key issue is the public
health impacts of fecal contamination of domestic water supplies. Contaminated
drinking water leading to diarrhoeal diseases is the most serious problem.
In addition, however, bathing in contaminated water is widely blamed for
very high rates of eye inflammation and gynaecological infection - though
the latter problem is thought to have more complex causes and is currently
being actively investigated (J. Uhlrig, pers. comm). Though national policy
no longer supports the use of nightsoil as fertilizer, this is still a
Local people take various actions to manage their water quality. Examples
of the these actions include using different sources for different uses
(e.g. rainfall collection tanks for drinking water, small water bodies
for other domestic water), sometimes on a seasonal basis; encouraging selected
aquatic macrophytes to grow in water bodies used for water supply; and
community problem-solving to direct small-industry discharges into designated
canal sections and withdraw irrigation water from more upstream sections.
These actions should be understood and strengthened, given that outside
(Government) interventions to improve rural water quality will occur slowly
- and, when provided, will be effective only if appropriate actions (e.g.
proper tubewell maintenance and site hygiene protection) are taken by local
Though the national pesticide regulation system has recently been significantly
strengthened and integrated pest management is being aggressively promoted,
problems persist including widespread use of restricted formulations, contamination
of field canals by dumping/rinsing from pesticide applicators, as well
as other, non-water-quality impacts such as loss of field biodiversity,
pesticide poisoning of field workers (including pregnant/nursing women),
and product contamination associated with spraying soon before harvest.
Within the specific irrigation projects studied, some point pollution
sources do exist - including hospitals; small breweries, pickling plants,
and slaughterhouses; and a few larger industrial plants - and these can
have severe effects in their immediate neighbourhoods. The overall effects
at present are relatively small (relative to the fecal contamination problem),
but with this type of rural industry set to expand rapidly, the need to
strengthen discharge regulation is clear.
4. Development of a Water Quality Management Information System for
In the language of strategic planning (Wiebe et al., 1994), water quality
management decisions (i.e. objectives, choice of policies, programmes,
and projects) should be made based on adequate information about (a) driving
forces, (b) current strengths and weaknesses; and (c) future opportunities
Beginning to generate this type of information base is one of the tasks
that to be addressed by TA-2. The project terms of reference refer to this
activity as "environmental monitoring," but in practice this tended to
be interpreted as referring to "water quality monitoring," and more specifically
"aquatic chemistry," possibly because a key element of the project work
plan involved designing and setting up what was understood to be an aquatic
chemistry laboratory. As the work progressed, however, three things became
The work of TA-2 now will be to translate these principles into a plan
for the development over the coming few years of MARD's water quality management
For some applications, alternatives to traditional laboratory-based aquatic
chemistry monitoring are increasingly being recognized as more efficient
and effective, for a number of reasons (Ongley, 1995). Alternatives to
lab-based aquatic chemistry include (i) different kinds of measurements
of different kinds of materials, such as ecological/biodiversity, toxicity/effects,
bioassay, and sediment measurements; and (ii) different methods for data
collection and analysis, such as the use of portable field water sample
analysis kits and participatory monitoring wherein local people make and
report simple, relevant measurements themselves.
Monitoring needs to be flexible and creative - a programme of ambient water
quality sampling at set stations and time intervals "forever" is not necessarily
most effective and efficient way to generate the specific information needed
by water quality managers. Adjuncts to ongoing static monitoring data accumulation
include short, intense environmental surveys (as in out surveys of two
irrigation schemes); increased emphasis on different types of data (e.g.
land use, discharge inventories, public health and other effects, performance
of alternative management practices); greatly increased emphasis on data
analysis and interpretation; and a shift to a more consciously cost-benefit-oriented
For the overall information system to be efficient and effective, it must
be based on an explicit identification of what questions the assembled
information is to answer, who is asking these questions (who is the audience
for the answers? what information can they understand and use?), and how
to present and distribute the information so that it is understood and
used (Ward, 1994).
GOV/MOSTE, 1994: Red River Delta master plan. Hanoi, November.
Hoang Trong Quang, 1990: Vietnam - country status reports
on water quality monitoring. In: Water Quality Monitoring in the Asian
[sic] and Pacific Region. ESCAP Bangkok. Water Resources Series No. 67,
Hydrometeorological Service, 1994: Regional workshop on
water resources assessment and integrated management - water supply and
pollution control. Hanoi, 8-11 November 1994, Viet Nam National Committee
for UNESCO IHP. 220 pp.
Le The Thu, Nguyen Van Ba, and Nguyen Van Hiep, 1993:
Quality of water sources in six provinces in south Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh
City, August. 27 pp. text + 18 pp. figures and tables.
Nguyen Tat Ha, Nguyen Hung Long, Bui Van Truong, Hoang
Thi Nghia, and Phung Thanh Van, 1994: Chemical analysis of drinking water
sources in Hai Hung, Hanoi, and Vinh Phu provinces. Ministry of Health,
Hanoi. 40 pp. (unnumbered).
Ongley, Edwin D., 1995: Water quality monitoring - changing
times! Keynote speech, National Workshop of the U.S. Intergovernmental
Task force on Monitoring Water Quality, 23 February. U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. 10 pp.
Upper Srepok Basin Project, 1995: Proposal for equipment
for a water quality laboratory. Working paper No. 3. Vietnam National Mekong
Committee, People's Committee of Dak Lak Province, and Mekong River Commission,
supported by DANIDA. November. 16 pp. + vi appendices.
Ward, R.C., 1994: Monitoring - what do you want to know?
In: Monitoring Tailor-Made. Proceedings, 20-23 Sep 94, Beekbergen Netherlands.
RIZA, Netherlands. pp. 16 - 24.
WATSAN Reference Centre, 1993: Evaluation of the quality
of water taken from tube and shallow wells, rainwater, and village pond
water in four provinces of Thai Binh, Hai Hung, Quang Nam-Da Nang, and
Binh Dinh. Thai Binh, October. 31 pp. (unnumbered).
Wiebe, H. D., D. Webster, M. Huq, D. McLean, and S. L.
Bennett, 1994: Northeast regional water management plan. NERP/Bangladesh
Flood Action Plan 6. May. 212 pp. + 24 figures.
United Nations, 1984: A framework for the development
of environmental statistics. Department of International Economic and Social
Affairs, Statistical Office, New York. Statistical Papers Ser. M, No. 78.
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