Dutch deal bridges troubled waters

VIR’s Kieu Linh analyses what have driven the Netherlands and Vietnam into a strategic partnership in water management and climate change adaptation and what the two countries expect to gain from this intensive co-operation.

The country's waterways are an economic asset that need to be protected from floods and pollution

The country's waterways are an economic asset that need to be protected from floods and pollution

Vietnam and The Netherlands celebrated their 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, but their strategic partnership on water management sprung from a memorandum of understanding signed in October 2009.

The landmark MoU was inked by Vietnam’s ministries of natural resources and environment and agriculture and rural development, and the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management

In October 2010 the two countries signed the Strategic Partnership Arrangement (SPA) on climate change adaptation and water management.

The SPA was inspired by the similarities between the Netherlands and Vietnam.

Both countries have large river deltas. With more than 26 per cent of the land below sea level, the Netherlands has adopted inventive and highly sophisticated means of water management to defend itself against floods and climate change. By involving relevant stakeholders and designing sustainable engineering and smart infrastructure, the Netherlands possesses very high standards of water management.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has many water problems and is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Climate change models predict worst-case scenarios in which large parts of the country may end up under water. The risk of climate change for the country’s industry and agriculture therefore remains substantial.

Since both countries face similar problems and challenges in terms of coastal zone management, flood control and adaptation to climate change; it provides a solid basis for intensive co-operation.

Fast-growing Vietnam recently became a middle-income country and the Netherlands has phased out its official development aid to the country. The bilateral relationship has now shifted to a partnership and this has inspired the Dutch to promote co-operation, share expertise and combine joint action together with Vietnam in water management and climate change adaptation for long-term mutual benefits.

“If you look for a middle income country or a developing country that has water problems similar to the Netherlands, and on top of that a country that we have a good relationship with, then Vietnam is a rather obvious choice,” according to Tom Kompier, the water expert of the Netherlands Embassy in Hanoi.

“Vietnam is very important for us to understand how we can co-operate in these fields within a new setting,” he said.

As the first component of the SPA, Ho Chi Minh City’s local government entered into a partnership with the Municipality of Rotterdam in 2011 to develop an integrated and climate-proof land-use plan intended to withstand the frequent flooding faced by the city and surrounding area.

Like Rotterdam, Ho Chi Minh City is a port city faced by water challenges such as the risk of flooding from rain water, river discharges and tides. Ho Chi Minh City is seeking to remove its ports from the city centre, just like Rotterdam did.

The second component of the SPA is the Mekong Delta Plan that has just been finalised.

These two components are the largest and most important projects in the first two years of the implementation of the SPA.

Promoting Mekong Delta resilience

The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s rice basket and plays a critical role in national food security. It produces half of Vietnam’s rice and an even larger share of fishery and fruit products. With 17.2 million people, equal to about 20 per cent of Vietnam’s total population, the Mekong Delta is one of the most densely populated parts of the country.

According to water experts, in the low-lying delta, rising sea levels are projected by 2030 to expose around 45 percent of the delta’s land area to extreme salinisation and crop damage through flooding.

Vietnam is one of the five delta countries worldwide that the Dutch government has selected for intensive co-operation in integrated water management and climate change adaptation. The other four countries are Mozambique, Egypt, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

During her visit to Vietnam to attend the annual Inter-governmental Committee meeting this week the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen will present the Mekong Delta Plan to Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai. This is the first time the Dutch Delta Programme has been exported.

The plan offers recommendations for the long-term socio-economic development of the Mekong Delta with special attention to water management and climate change adaptation. It provides an integrated vision to improve the prosperity and sustainability of the Mekong Delta towards the end of the century.

These recommendations are important building blocks to move from planning to implementation, to help evaluate what measures to take in terms of water management and climate change adaptation, acting to increase the prosperity of the region and maintain a resilience to deal with future challenges. It calls for an integrated approach, crosscutting sectoral and provincial borders.

Water and climate change in Vietnam

For Vietnam, climate change poses a threat at several levels. Rainfall is predicted to increase and the country will face more intense tropical storms. Sea levels are expected to rise by 33cm by 2050 and one metre by 2100. For the low-lying Mekong Delta this is a particularly grim forecast. The projected sea level rise by 2030 would expose around 45 percent of the Delta’s land area to extreme salinisation and crop damage through flooding. Crop productivity for rice is forecast to fall by 9 per cent. If sea levels rise by one metre, much of the delta would be completely inundated for some periods of the year. In addition, the possible displacement of up to 22 million people could become a reality, with losses of up to 10 per cent of GDP.

Traditionally, the focus of the water and climate sector has been on irrigation, drainage, and flood control as agriculture comprises 93 per cent of demand for water resources, while 60 per cent of the country’s 90 million plus population live in typhoon-prone areas. With Vietnam’s adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, increased attention is paid to rural water supply and sanitation since water pollution and waste water management are emerging challenges related to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. The main development goal of the sector in the next 15 years comprises the effective protection, efficient exploitation, and sustainable development of water resources on the basis of an integrated water resource management.

Serious development challenges to the sector are:

- Increasing water scarcity and inter-sectoral competition, which are not matched by the development of adequate water allocation mechanisms;

- Worsening water quality;

- Water services and investment, including in irrigation, do not meet demand;

- Excessive risks of floods and coastal zone resources degradation.

Source: www.hollandinvietnam.org