Việt Nam’s water issues need collaboration

November 10, 2018 - 07:00

The Mekong Delta, the rice bowl of Việt Nam, is sinking. HCM City, the country’s economic engine, is facing severe urban flooding. How can The government and people solve these problems? Việt Nam News reporter Khoa Thư talks with Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for Water Affairs of the Netherlands, on this issue.

Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for Water Affairs of the Netherlands - VNS Photo Quang Đăng
Viet Nam News

The Mekong Delta, the rice bowl of Việt Nam, is sinking. HCM City, the country’s economic engine, is facing severe urban flooding. How can The government and people solve these problems? Việt Nam News reporter Khoa Thư talks with Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for Water Affairs of the Netherlands, on this issue.

What is the reason for your visit to Việt Nam?

My visit to Việt Nam is made under the framework of the 45th anniversary of the Việt Nam – Netherlands friendship. In this relationship, there is a lot of back and forth, learning, capacity building, understanding, collaboration and we cherish and celebrate it.

2015 with the Paris Agreement was the year when I personally helped strengthen Vietnamese and international efforts taking the next step in the Mekong Delta plan.

The Mekong Delta is such an important area for Việt Nam and also for the world. It took two years for the international community and Việt Nam to see how we could make the Mekong Delta more resilient.

In 2015, I talked to the then Deputy Prime Minister Hoàng Trung Hải, ministries, development parties, the United Nations and the EU to understand the biggest challenges. With the outcome of that process, we started new engagement in capacity building and also convinced Việt Nam to take the Mekong Delta plan to COP21.

Now you have a resolution that sets out the agenda on what to do and what comes next. And that leads to my second point on why I’m here: the Mekong Delta. The Mekong Delta and the challenges it faces are so critically important.

We think that the challenges faced by the Mekong Delta are examples for other deltas around the world. And if we can work together on this delta and build plans and projects to make the delta more resilient, it can be an inspiration for others.

So it’s not only good for Việt Nam, it’s something that other countries can learn from.

Việt Water is a gathering of businesses from around the world in Việt Nam to exchange knowledge and experience. There was also a big Dutch delegation of research organisations, engineers and consultants coming to Việt Water. So I was here for the event.

Việt Nam and the Netherlands share similar conditions. How have the two countries collaborated to improve resilience against climate change? How can people adapt to climate change?

Việt Nam and the Netherlands are two delta countries. In 2015, at the UNISDR conference in Sendai, Japan, the world agreed that responding to climate change was not the best way. The best way is to prepare yourself and prevent disasters.

We helped set up a coalition of delta countries facing the same problem. Delta countries are always at the end of the line – always dependent and vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Việt Nam has joined the coalition we initiated with 30 other countries including Argentina, Columbia, Egypt, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Korea, the Philippines, etc. This coalition underlines the importance of this co-operation.

Saltwater intrusion, for example, happens in different ways and when groundwater gets salty, it never gets fresh again.

In your delta, hydropower plants’ dams increase water insecurity. Because of these dams, the natural flow of water is prevented. The river that forms the Mekong Delta is challenged because of these upstream dams.

Second is climate change and rising sea levels, while third is agricultural development in the certain way that erosion and land subsidence mix to cause salt intrusion.

I was on Cù Lao Dung (Dung Island) in Sóc Trăng Province to see how agriculture is changing, from sugar cane to shrimp because of the changing conditions.

What is the role of government in enhancing climate change resilience?

It’s always a combination. The government cannot solve it alone. The Paris Agreement, for example, cannot be realised without international commitment. Within the government, different agencies have to work together.

The government also has to work collaboratively with the private sector, academia, NGOs and the public when it comes to resilience and climate change.

Việt Nam’s Resolution No 120 has a plan for the delta. However, a plan without any project is nothing. It is just a book on a shelf. A project without a plan is also not good. We need a plan and a project at the same time. A project can be public-private or completely private. The government can help strengthen this partnership and set policy, vision and ambition as well as plan projects but never alone.

HCM City’s urban flooding is getting worse. What is your recommendation to solve this problem?

In the context of climate change, cities like HCM City face the more extreme events. It’s nothing new.

In the Netherlands, we have worked on cities for thousands of years and every time we put a little layer of resiliency until cities become in the end very resilient.

There is no silver bullet, no one solution for you to fix climate change. You have to work at all levels.

HCM City lies near the delta, therefore, the urban flooding cannot be solved by the city alone. The co-operation of the whole region is critically important.

Extreme weather does not care about man-made borders, whenever the tide rises or storm hits it affects the whole region. This means HCM City can only deal with this problem on both the regional scale and national scale. Otherwise, it’s like bringing water to the ocean.

For the city itself, regarding immediate, short term and long term intervention, it should have a comprehensive climate change resilience strategy, taking social-culture issues, urbanisation, infrastructure development, into consideration.

It is suggested to identify the city’s top vulnerabilities, at the same time, the pathway to change.

HCM City cannot be safe from flooding or heatwaves from day one, so awareness and capacity building of government, the private sector, NGOs and community is essential. – VNS