Vietnam: Dutch Project Bringing Clean Water To Vietnam, 8 Other Countries

By Ann-Christin Sjölander

DA NANG, Vietnam - Outside the old water treatment plant women in conical straw hats carry heavy sacks of cement. They wear masks to protect themselves from the dust. Big, noisy power shovels are gnawing trenches into the earth. The huge, gray cement culverts that will go into the trenches are scattered around the heavy machinery.

The old water treatment plant is being replaced by a new one that will be able to process about 4.2 million cubic feet or 120,000 cubic meters of water a day, nearly three times the previous capacity.

This is an aid project in one of Vietnam’s biggest cities, a place where
More than a third of the 800,000 people have no running water and where nearly 40 percent the water the government would like to deliver to households and businesses is lost through leaks and seepage from ancient municipal pipes. Conditions are even in worse in many other parts of the developing world.

The government of the Netherlands is spending $2.4 million or about 1, 8 million Euros to improve Da Nang’s municipal water works. Vitens and Evides, the two largest public water companies in the Netherlands, are putting in about $800,000 or roughly 600,000 Euros through a joint company, Vitens-Evides International.  It provides information and technology to water companies in developing countries on a non-profit basis.

The Vietnamese are contributing about $375,000 or 280.000 Euros – roughly 10 % of the project’s budget. Additional money is coming from the Netherlands through a program in which people make regular contributions toward international water projects by adding a regular donation to their water bills.

The Dutch project is also building additional toilets for a school here that has 400 students and two toilets, one for boys, one for girls.  Pipe lines for running water are also going out to two poor districts where the groundwater has become polluted and unfit to drink. .

The work in Vietnam is part of a worldwide effort by the Dutch to get clean water to 50 million people in the next six years. Around the world about one billion people are living without fresh, clean water close at hand and another 2.5 billion people have no toilets.  The time and effort that many people put into getting water every day is a drag on them and their national economies. And the lack of water and toilets makes them vulnerable to diseases that are barely known in developed countries.

The Dutch and the non-profit company have projects underway in eight other countries in Africa and Asia including Yemen, Mongolia, Ghana and Mozambique.
“Our only purpose is to build a well functioning water utility and to provide better service for customers,” said Gerard Soppe, the manager of the Dutch project here. “We are not making a profit.” The same approach is being applied in the other countries.

Projects like these are encouraged by the United Nations and are often referred to as water operator partnerships or WOPS.  Sweden carried out such projects in Latvia and Lithuania in the late 1990s. One project was a sewage treatment plant put up in Riga, the capital of Latvia. It was credited with reducing pollution in the Baltic Sea.

The Dutch program has modest ambitions compared with the so-called Millennium Goals set by the United Nations. The United Nations is aiming to cut in half the number of people without access to water and without toilets by 2015. Experts say the United Nations goals probably will not be reached. The Dutch may hit their mark.

One drawback of the Dutch project is that the cost of providing water is rising. Water from the new plant will cost more to produce than Vietnamese customers are now paying. But local Vietnamese authorities are reluctant to increase costs for the people of Da Nang. For now, the Dutch are making up the difference. But, the Dutch say, that cannot go on doing this indefinitely.

The main source of water for Da Nang is the Cam Le River. The river water flows milky-brown into the old treatment plant. It passes through several filters but still looks muddy. The new plant is supposed to fix that.



Photo by Ann-Christin Sjölander

Manager of Dutch Water Project in Danang, Gerard Soppe

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