Economic forum: Solution for shortage and surplus of clean water

According to the Population and Housing Census Report of the General Statistics Office in 2019, the percentage of households accessing tap water accounted for only about 52%. In particular, the proportion of households in urban areas that had access to tap water reached 84.2%, while in rural areas it was only 34.8%. The ratio of access between urban and rural areas shows a huge disparity nationwide.

The access rate to clean water in Vietnam has significant differences among localities, between localities and national average, between urban and rural areas of the same locality. In particular, the group with high access rate of over 80% includes: Ho Chi Minh City, Thua Thien Hue, Hai Duong, Hai Phong, Ba Ria – Vung Tau. The average access group includes localities with the access rate of 50% – 79% such as: Binh Duong, Quang Ninh, Nam Dinh. The group of localities with access to clean water below 50% are Lam Dong (31.9%), Nghe An, Thanh Hoa, Thai Nguyen, etc.

Even in Hanoi, experts’ analyzation of census data from the General Statistics Office shows that, only nearly 35% of suburban residents was able to use tap water in 2019. The clean water price in Hanoi has not changed during the past 10 years is a typical example of the low domestic water price with merely no adjustment, showing the unreasonable structure of the current clean water market. Although the clean water market has been socialized and the State does not have sufficient investment resources, attracting private investment has not been effective. Both private and state enterprises are facing various difficulties such as: purchase price, volume of water purchased, low selling price, inability to expand water supply area.

Resolution No. 16, issued by the 15th National Assembly in 2021, requires that by 2025, 95-100% of the urban population and 93-95% of the rural population must have clean water. As of 2019, only about 53% of the population had access to tap water. Thus, Vietnam is facing the risk of not achieving the set target on the percentage of people using clean water. Attracting private investment and reorganizing clean water market are considered the keys to achieving the goal. How to protect investors’ interests and ensure equality between the State and the private sector when entering into a contractual relationship? This is the question asked to attract private investors to participate in this important market.

In discussion of this topic, we would like to introduce the two guest speakers:

Mr. NGUYEN QUANG HUAN – Member of Committee for Science, Technology and Environment, Vice Chairman of Vietnam Association of Clean Water and Environment;

Mr. NGUYEN QUANG DONG – Director of IPS Media Development and Policy Research Institute=

Currently, there is a fact that the clean water market is in a vicious circle: When the selling price is low, enterprises cannot gain enough profit. Meanwhile, the State does not compensate for the loss of profit. This means that technology cannot be improved and the water quality is in turn impacted, affecting water users’ health.

In Lam Dong province, the State has invested hundreds of domestic clean water works to serve rural people. However, a series of projects prove to be inefficient, even abandoned, wasting the State budget. Meanwhile, to attract private investment is very difficult. This affects people’s lives, leaving this locality with only nearly 32% of people having access to clean water.

Ms. Le Mu K’Tuyn’s family and more than 220 households have been granted resettlement land in Da Nghit Hamlet, Lat Commune, Lac Duong District, Lam Dong Province for more than 10 years. Lacking domestic water, her family as well as other households in the village had to get bank loan to drill wells and connect to the supply network for common use, but the water source was still unsanitary.

LE MU K’TUYN, Da Nghit Hamlet, Lat Commune, Lac Duong District, Lam Dong Province: “In the past, my family used to rain water for use but it was not enough for us in the dry season. We borrowed money from the bank to drill a well, but the water source is heavily contaminated with alum. We has to use this water because there is no other choice.”

HOANG VUONG, Da Nghit Hamlet, Lat Commune, Lac Duong District, Lam Dong Province: “This source of well water still has a bad and fishy odour, contaminated with alum, clothes is often stained with yellow residue after washed. I hope the local government agencies will support us in providing clean water sources for domestic activities and hygiene.”

While many households have to borrow money to drill wells, in Bao Lam District, 19 out of 48 rural clean water projects are being operated effectively.

Mr. TRAN QUOC TUAN, Deputy Director of the Project Management Board, Investment and Construction of Public Works in Bao Lam District, Lam Dong Province: “There are subjective and objective reasons, including management issues. Currently, localities are responsible for managing human resources. The lack of personnel experience and salary budget for project operation managers made it impossible for retaining staff. Meanwhile, drilled wells are unhygienic and contaminated with alum, left abandoned and then seriously degraded.”

Lam Dong Province currently has 256 concentrated rural water supply works, including 57 self-flowing water supply works, 199 drilling well works. 31 communes connected to 12 water plants of 7 water supply companies in districts and cities. However, up to now, only 94 projects have been operated relatively sustainably, 88 works have been operated unsustainably, and 74 works were abandoned. The reason is that maintenance is not provided timely after a long period of operation. The competency of the management, operation and exploitation teams has not met the requirements. The investment in upgrading and repairing or newly constructing is not synchronous.

Mr. NGUYEN MINH TRUONG, Deputy Director of Agricultural Extension Center, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Lam Dong Province: We must continue to invest in clean water works. Investment must be synchronous, that is, the final product of the investment in the project must be clean water; more attention should be paid to the timely maintenance of degraded works; especially raise the professional level of the operation managers for these water works.”

In addition to the inadequacies from inefficient management and consumption, according to many experts, the shortage of clean water also comes from the fact that many water enterprises are selling less amount of water despite the large water capacity they purchase. At the same time, the retail price of water, especially domestic water, is still low with merely no adjustment.


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More than 31 million people in rural areas do not have access to clean water. That is the data given by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Rural Clean Water Supply Project for the period of 2021-2025. Not having access to clean water also means that people have to live with unsafe water sources. Under this situation, many water plants have been built urgently in the hope of improving people’s quality of life. However, the statistics is showing that up to 1/3 of the water supply works built in this period are not effective, which is a waste of budget. The inadequacy of rural clean water supply also lies in the regulations on zoning of water supply, which makes it unavailable for areas in need, while available sources cannot be shared.

Well water is still the main water source for nearly 26,000 people in Hai Hau District, Nam Dinh Province. All communes and towns of this district have reached the new rural destination. But up to now, more than 95% of people still do not have access to clean water.

Only 1 road apart, but the neighboring commune has had clean water for a few years, making Mr. Du nervous.

Mr. NGO VIET DU, Hai Van Commune, Hai Hau District, Nam Dinh Province: “The clean water pipe has been constructed next to this highway. I have asked the authorities if I can connect to it, but they said no because this belongs to another area. I just want clean water but why it is so difficult, I don’t understand why.”

In response to the wishes of the people, this plant has continuously received many requests for water supply. This is inherently possible, as the plant is currently only operating at 20% of its capacity. However, enterprises still cannot supply clean water to people because according to the regulations on water supply zoning, the plant will only serve the people in the locality where it is located.

Mr. MAI VAN QUYET, Director of the Department of Planning and Investment of Nam Dinh Province: “Water is a conditional commodity. So the water supply is to avoid disputes. So there must be a water supply partition.”

Mr. HOANG TRUNG DUNG, Deputy Director of Hoang Gia Clean Water Joint Stock Company 2: “These regulations make it difficult for enterprises. If not, it is easier for households and enterprises to exchange and use water directly. Even though the pipes go through one’s houses, they are not allowed to use them. And they are angry about that.”

The question has not been answered, because the expectations have not found a common voice. As long as the surplus areas cannot share with the shortage ones, there will still be a paradox: some can’t eat it all, some can’t find anything out.

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The lack of sanitary and clean water affects the health and development of billions of people, and has a major impact on the execution of other human rights. It is the people who have the right and the government who has the obligation to provide water services. In addition, people with rights can claim their rights and obligors must ensure their rights to water and sanitation equally and without discrimination.

Below are the feedback of four people on this issue.

Mr. K’Cuong, Hamlet 4, Loc Ngai Commune, Bao Lam District, Lam Dong Province: “My family has to drill a well to use clean water. I want the State to support us in clean water supply.”

Ms. MAI THI HOA, Hai Van Commune, Hai Hau, Nam Dinh: “In general, the water that we are using is not safe, but we have to accept it because there is nothing that we can do. If the well water is clean or we can buy clean water, then our eating and drinking will be much safer!”

Mr. NGUYEN DINH CUNG, Former Director of the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM), Ministry of Planning and Investment: “It is necessary to promulgate the Law on Water Supply and Drainage, such as the Law on Electricity, and develop modern market institutions based on international practices. Along with that, the State management system must be changed to be more focused, more effective and more professional. Thus, people will benefit more from water supply.”


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To expand the supply of clean water, to ensure the right of people to access water; to encourage the participation of the private sector; frameworks and regulations for the market need to be further improved. Currently, only Decree 117/2007/ND-CP regulates the management of water supply and exploitation directly, which is not enough.

How should the PPP investment mechanism in providing clean water services be implemented to achieve the goal of clean water for the entire population is a head-aching question. The vague situation is making it difficult for the domestic service provider market to develop, which poses risks, and policy profiteering groups will find ways to compete unfairly.

Attracting private investment is necessary to expand the supply of clean water, ensuring access to water for the people. However, for the private sector to effectively participate in this market, the frameworks and regulations for the market need to be further improved. Therefore, it is necessary to have a comprehensive assessment and design an overall policy system to complete the clean water trading market. That is, it is urgent to develop a Law on Water Supply and Water Treatment, which has been requested by the Government and is being implemented by the Ministry of Construction. There is a new law that can adjust the organization, the regulation to the operation of the water supply and domestic water treatment market, similar to the electricity industry with the Electricity Law.

Source: Television of Vietnam National Assembly