Doan The Loi, director general of the Institute for Water Resources Research under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, spoke with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on how to co-ordinate water management.
Some people have complained that the lack of good co-ordination among water users in Viet Nam has led to disputes. How do you respond to that?
Water disputes are unavoidable when the number of users has increased while water resources have become scarcer and scarcer. This is a universal problem, not only for Viet Nam but for other countries worldwide.
To solve this problem, it is imperative to have a comprehensive solution with different scenarios. And, it will take time as it cannot be done overnight.
We all agree that it is important to build a hydro-electricity power plant. But the building of such a power plant cannot be to the detriment of other economic sectors like agriculture, industry, or the people's daily use. In other words, it requires the government to act as general director to co-ordinate all the water users in a harmonised way that meets the interest and benefit of all sectors in society.
In our country at present, water management and exploitation are assigned to various government agencies. For example, water resources are managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Enviroment; the construction of hydro power plants are managed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade while the MARD is in charge of water irrigation and dykes.
Do you mean water management is scattered?
Yes! Totally scattered and no linkage. If there was a good linkage or co-ordination, disputes would not have happened. There are many occasions where scientists and researchers have raised their voices on the need to have an agency to act as a focal point in water management. I'm confident that once such an agency is established the problem of water disputes will be resolved satisfactorily.
That means we need "a rule" before "people can start the game". Do you agree?
Well, there are several laws on water management in our country. But their enforcement is poor. Under the laws, an owner of a hydropower plant must consult with relevant agencies and people who will be affected by the construction of the plant before they make a decision on constructing the plant. In reality the consultative process was done, yet it was done for the sake of doing it. It was almost meaningless. In my opinion, that's the root cause of the disputes. If the water management agency is in place and is empowered to regulate the water use among the users, all the players will feel happy.
I still remember that about a decade ago there was a drive to build hydro power plants in Viet Nam. To raise money to build the plants, the project owners issued shares with a promise of instant money once the plants start generating electricity.
And we all agree that thanks to hydro power plants we have enjoyed stable electricity supply. But the poor planning and the weak co-ordination among water users has sometimes become chaos for the people and agencies.
Will you please explain the consequences of poor co-ordination among water users?
Water exploitation is a big issue as it involves people from all aspects of life – be they humble or noble.
Here we talk of both the surface and underground water.
I have to say the extraction of underground water nowadays has become a serious problem in many localities. For example, in the Tay Nguyen Central Highlands, coffee farmers have over-extracted the underground water to irrigate their coffee plants while fishing farmers in the Mekong delta over-extract underground water to raise aqua-products. These days people talk a lot about the sea level rises and their consequences. But in my opinion, the over-extraction of the underground water is more serious than sea level rises. Its consequences have been reflected in the media quite frequently these days.
In short, it is high time for Viet Nam to reform its water resources management, to treat water as a kind of commodity. It needs a comprehensive management approach and a general director to lead the choir. — VNS