State of water : Vietnam
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State of water environmental issues
Viet Nam + Overview
+ Sea Areas
+ Surface water
+ Groundwater
+ Water quality
+ Water resources scorecard


Viet Nam has a dense river network—2360 rivers with a length of more than 10 km. Eight out of these are large basins with a catchment area of 10,000 km² or more. This river network includes many international rivers that originate in catchments in other countries. About two thirds of Viet Nam’s water resources originate outside the country, making Viet Nam susceptible to water resources decisions made in upstream countries.

The total area in- and outside Viet Nam of all international catchments is close to 1.2 mill. km², which is approximately three times the size of Viet Nam itself. The total annual runoff is 835 billion m³ but the shortage of water is aggravated in the 6-7 month dry season when the runoff is only 15 to 30% of this total.

All the rivers traversing Viet Nam provide an abundant supply of water (255 bill. m³ annually). However, inadequate physical infrastructure and financial capacity results in a low utilization of only 53 bill. m³ per year. In addition, the uneven distribution across Viet Nam of the average annual rainfall of 1,960 mm and the prolonged dry season result in serious shortages of water in many areas.

Groundwater resources are abundant with the total potential exploitable reserves of the country's aquifers estimated at nearly 60 billion m³ per year. However, despite the abundance of groundwater reserves, less than 5% of the total reserves are exploited for the country as a whole. In some areas, over-exploitation has resulted in falling water tables which contributes to further land subsidence and salinity intrusion, especially in the Mekong River Delta.

Water utilization: In Viet Nam, irrigation places the largest burden on water resources. Total irrigation demand in 2000 was 76.6 billion m³, representing 84% of total demand. Since 1998, total irrigated area has increased annually by 3.4% on average, but the irrigation systems can serve only 7.4 mill. ha (or 80% of total cropped land). The government expects irrigation demand to increase to 88.8 billion m³ by 2010, (representing an irrigated area of 12 mill. ha).

Clean drinking water is now provided to 60 percent of Viet Nam’s population. The GoV's strategy is to increase this to 80% in 2005 and the urban coverage to 95% in 2010. Fisheries, aquaculture, industries and services also make increasing demands on the country’s water resources.

Biodiversity: Viet Nam’s freshwater and marine biodiversity is relatively high but threatened by domestic and industrial water pollution, dam and road construction, dredging, over-fishing and destructive fishing techniques, as well as intensive aquaculture.

The freshwaters of Viet Nam are rich in flora and fauna biodiversity including fish (544 species), shrimp, crab (52 species), 782 species of invertebrates (snail, mussels, amphibians, insects) and plants (20 species of weeds, 1402 species of algae). Viet Nam’s marine waters are home to more than 2000 fish species, of which about 130 species are economically important. Additionally, there are more than 1,600 species of crustaceans and 2,500 species of mollusks. Among them 101 freshwater and 131 marine species are listed in the 2002 Red Book as rare and endangered. The country is also rich in ecosystems like wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds.

Water quality: There is increasing evidence of pollution of Viet Nam’s surface, ground and coastal waters. Although the quality of upstream river waters is generally good, downstream sections of major rivers reveal poor water quality and most of the lakes and canals in urban areas are fast becoming sewage sinks. Groundwater shows pockets of contamination and some salinity intrusion. Rapid urbanization and industrialization in coastal areas, port and marine transport development, expansion in coastal tourism, and an increase in the number of oil spills contribute to the deterioration of coastal water quality.

Vulnerability: The geography and topography of Viet Nam makes the country extremely vulnerable to natural hazards. Heavily populated areas such as the Delta Regions of the Red River and the Mekong River along with the Central Coastal Regions are especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Each year natural disasters such as typhoons, storms, floods or drought have extreme effects on people, their livelihood, their agricultural lands, their livestock, and their infrastructure.

Economic costs: In Viet Nam over the last four years about 6 million cases of six varieties of waterborne diseases were registered and incurred direct costs of at least 400 billion VND for the treatment of cholera, typhoid, dysentery and malaria. In addition to the health costs, there are significant costs associated with the treatment of water resources and the cleanup after oil-spills. Total financial losses caused by a major oil spill in 2001 were estimated at 250 billion VND (17 million USD) while costs for cleaning up polluted waters and beaches reached 60 billion VND (4 million USD). The damage costs associated with water-related natural disasters like flooding have been estimated at 18,700 billion VDN or 1.25 billion USD between 1995 and 2002.

Management capacity: In Viet Nam the water sector has no overall integrated strategy and action plan at the national or regional basin level. However, strategies and action plans exist for a number of the sub sectors. The Law on Water Resources, approved in 1998, represents a major step toward integrated water resources management. But only partial progress has been made in implementing the reforms embodied in it. Important secondary legislation necessary for implementing many of the law’s objectives have not yet been developed.

In 2000 a National Water Resource Council at the national level and in 2001 three Boards for River Basin Planning and Management at a local level were established to work under the government as advisory, coordination and planning bodies.

With the creation of a new Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) in 2002, the state management of water resources was allocated to the Agency of Water Resources Management within MONRE. This important change represents a separation of state management and service functions for water resources. Previously, both water resources management and service functions were the responsibility of the Agency of Water Resources and Hydraulic Works Management under MARD.

Findings from a review to estimate GoV spending on the water sector activities showed that although its proportion in the total national budget expenditure has declined, the public expenditure for water sector has increased at an annual average of 8.9% during the period 1996-2001. Although spending on water resource management is far too little compared to investment (less than 1%) and accounts for less than 10% of the current budget expenditure, the public investment in water sector constitutes a considerable proportion of the national budget investment from 1996 to 1998 (about 33%), but this declined since 1999 due to the national budget’s shift in focus toward banking systems and SOEs improvement. The main investments are made in irrigation, water supply and drainage.

Regional water resources profile: The eight economic regions are largely formed within the major river basins. However, they differ from each other in water availability, quality, biodiversity and vulnerability. Red River Delta, Mekong River Delta and Northeast of Mekong (Dong Nam Bo) regions are characterized by dense river networks and abundant surface water resources. In these regions rapid population growth, urbanization and industrialization, intensive agriculture, and water transport have resulted in worsening water quality and declining groundwater levels. While the coastal regions with an increasing population density are becoming more vulnerable to natural disasters from global climate change and deforestation in the upstream areas, high mountain regions (Northwest and Central Highlands) have experienced more serious droughts and flashfloods. Inland biodiversity and freshwater fishery have declined in most of the regions. Coastal and marine resources have shown benefits to the coastal regions and the country’s economy, but overexploitation is an eminent risk.

Responding to Vietnamese Water Resource Issues: The Government of Viet Nam has made impressive gains in tackling the water resources management issues in the country. This has been made possible through a rise in public investments in the water sector to 8,621 bill. VND in 2001 from 5,682 bill. VND in 1996.

Backed by increased investments, and improved capacity, the Government of Viet Nam has formulated and implemented several policies and programs that specifically address issues relating to water resources management. These issues include improving access to clean water and sanitation; curbing pollution; conserving biodiversity and protecting ecosystems; improving the sustainability of fisheries; addressing vulnerability to water-related disasters; and strengthening river basin management.

Challenges: To achieve the vision and targets of managing the country’s vast water resources in a sustainable way, Viet Nam needs to address the following key challenges:

  • Strengthening the policy and institutional framework for integrated water resources management;
  • Expanding and diversifying investment in infrastructure for the water sector, while paying more attention to financing for the management side;
  • Improving compliance and enforcement;
  • Deepening public participation and involvement.

The core issues in tackling these challenges are adopting an integrated river basin approach, greater and more sufficient adaptation to the water-related vulnerability and susceptibility, expanded and more efficient services for irrigation and domestic water supply, and curbing water pollution and its health impacts on the poor.

More proactive engagement in regional riparian cooperation, improving information management, complete separation of the water management and service functions, further decentralization of management authorities, and strengthening of institutional capacity would provide Viet Nam with the required management tools that will address equity, efficiency and environmental sustainability of Viet Nam’s water resources.

+ Overview
+ Sea Areas
+ Surface water
+ Groundwater
+ Water quality
+ Water resources scorecard