Identify challenges of clean water in sustainable development

Water is not only the source of life for all living things, it also signifies good fortune in many cultures around the world.
Mr. Nguyen Quang Huan, Member of the National Assembly, Vice Chairman of Vietnam Association of Clean Water & Environment, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Halcom Vietnam Joint Stock Company

On occasion of Lunar New Year, The World and Vietnam Report had an interview with Mr. Nguyen Quang Huan, Member of the National Assembly, Vice Chairman of Vietnam Association of Clean Water & Environment, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Halcom Vietnam Joint Stock Company (Halcom), regarding water issue.

– Vietnam is a country that previously committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and recently the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030 (SDGs). How do you assess on our implementation of the two goals: securing clean water supply for residents and overseeing wastewater effluent?

Vietnam had demonstrated excellent performance on Millennium Development Goals, which was highly appreciated by the international community. As at the current stage, the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030 (SDGs) includes 115 goals, from which Vietnam has grouped into 17 goals.

The sixth goal specifies clean water and sanitation. Supplying clean water to residents is a key factor, which has been raised by the Party in multiple important resolutions such as Resolution No. NQ24-TW, Resolution of the 13th National Congress of the Party and recently Conclusion No. 36-KL/TW by Politburo on water security, all calling for securing universal access to clean water. SDGs are both a goal in UN Agenda as well as a drastic direction of the Party and Government of Vietnam.

In order to ensure sustainable development, we should not only pursue reported achievements but it is clean water quality that matters. It is necessary to adopt the same clean water standard for the whole country, regardless of urban or rural areas. This requires a large investment in both policies, resources and implementation roadmap.

Technology is also an important factor. In the past 20-30 years, Vietnam has witnessed no any technological innovation and failed to keep pace with the world. Our water supply system is almost manual, no automatic control, disinfection by chlorine, while the world has undergone many steps of disinfection technology from chlorine to fluorine, from ozone to UV…

Although nanofiltration technology has been popular globally and new technology has been integrated, Vietnam still applies conventional treatment technology. Nanofiltration is cleaner compared with sand filtration, while retaining healthy organic and mineral substances.

Thus, we need to improve technology, upgrade water quality and service quality; simultaneously unifying water quality standards in urban and rural areas. Vietnam needs to execute more drastic investment so that rural people can have enough clean water to use, rather than solely provide a solution of “sanitary water”.

Currently, there are many factors causing water pollution, in which mainly untreated wastewater and leachate from landfills, seeping into groundwater or running off into surface water. Besides, according to World Bank (WB), only about 45-50% of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are absorbed by plants, the rest is discharged into the surrounding environment due to waterlogging or flood irrigation.

Such challenges show that we have to work harder to achieve the SDGs as well as to implement the Party’s Resolutions in practice, not in pursuit of reported achievements.

– The current demand for water treatment equipment of Vietnamese is remarkably high, especially in rural areas, remote areas, Mekong Delta… In your opinion, is there any solution to speed up the access of clean water for residents, at a lower cost?

It is inevitable that residents have to use water treatment equipment, because they have no access to clean water supply network. High equipment expense is unaffordable for low income residents, and water quality cannot be maintained and controlled regularly. Therefore, it is better to construct centralized water supply systems, water supply networks along with periodic control regimes to ensure the access to standard clean water.

In order for clean water to reach people faster, whether in the Mekong Delta or the Northern mountainous region, it is imperative that the Law on Water Supply and Drainage be promulgated, as Decrees 117 and 118 on Water Supply and Drainage have been outdated whilst no uniform management policy is imposed across the country.

The water sector is currently managed by 5-6 ministries, overlapping and lacking management stages from watershed to water treatment and consumption, resulting in low efficiency. The Law on Water Supply and Drainage is the basis for building more consistent and long-term policies in order to attract greater investment resources from the society, to meet the needs of people’s daily life and production.

– Could you please tell me about the current incentives of Vietnam for domestic and foreign investors in clean water sector?

Vietnam is currently applying Law on Water Resources, Law on Environmental Protection, Law on Investment, Law on PPP Investment and many Party Resolutions, as well as Government Decrees including Decree 69 and then Decree 59 (Amendment of Decree 69), to encourage and provide incentives for domestic and foreign investment in clean water and environmental sanitation.

The problem is that Vietnam still lacks a consistent policy to manage private investors, from water protection to operation management or a roadmap to increase water tariff, service quality and technological innovation. Subsequently, Vietnam has not really caught up with the water industry regionally and globally, which is also a certain obstacle against attracting further foreign investment in Vietnam’s water industry.

In Vietnam, there are many private investors involving in large clean water projects. However, many investors lack deep insight of the water industry, exposing the management and operation stages with inadequacies. Besides, the technical aspects such as water hammer and erosion are not well-known, especially for pipelines with the large diameter of 1,000-2,000 mm.

Vietnam mainly applies conventional technologies such as sand filtration, slow filtration, or lamella separation, falling behind the world’s modern technology. Traditional technologies are only suitable for clean, well-controlled water input. In the current state of uncontrolled pollution, it is unlikely that conventional technology can remove all harmful substances in the water.

The mechanisms to attract foreign investment are available, but the policy is unclear. In my opinion, it is necessary to firstly develop Law on Water Supply and Drainage, and subsequently issue a long-term investment policy. Clean water tariff or the cost of wastewater treatment are still inadequate.

In order to attract foreign investors more effectively, it is necessary to encourage the adoption of new technologies. On the other hand, there should also be mechanisms to ensure profits for domestic investors, so that they can employ foreign experts to upgrade and innovate technology. Local governments must strictly monitor investors and operators, both domestic and foreign, in terms of water volume, water quality and service quality.

– What do you share about the development prospects of Vietnam’s clean water?

National Strategy on Climate Change for 2050, Conclusion No. 36 by the Politburo, Resolution No. 24/TW, Resolution No. 16/QH15 on socio-economic development 2021-2025 of the 15th National Assembly… will be the legal basis and corridor for the Government to take and achieve new progress in environment protection and clean water. It is necessary to further concretize the Party’s resolutions so that the humanity of these resolutions can be put into practice, serving people’s livelihood, especially the poor in remote areas.

Both domestic and foreign investors are interested in the stable water industry. The current difficulties and limitations of the water industry are only temporary, which have been identified and will be changed in the near future. This is the development expectation of Vietnam’s clean water sector.

Source: The World and Vietnam Report