Progressing water reform in Vietnam

Vietnam is faced with many challenges in providing its people with water security including managing the risks to water such as pollution, climate change, and over abstraction, and managing the risks from water including flooding, periods of water scarcity and subsidence. These risks occur more and more frequently, for example in October 2022, heavy rain affected the central-eastern provinces of Vietnam, causing floods, triggering landslides and leading to casualties and damage. 

Over the last two years, Vietnam’s Department of Water Resources and Management (DWRM) under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), has been responding to these challenges – instigating water reforms through the development of a Master Plan on Water Resources approved by the Prime Minister in December 2022, and through a review of Vietnam’s Water Laws. The next steps in Vietnam’s water reform agenda will be to develop River Basin Plans across 16 major water sheds, a number of which are shared with neighbouring countries.  

The Australian Water Partnership comprising a team of Australian Water Professionals from RM Consulting Group (RMCG) and Hydrology and Risk Consulting (HARC), Associate Professor Rebecca Nelson from the University of Melbourne and a National Consultant Dr Toan Trinh, have been working with Vietnam’s Department of Water Resource Management in the areas of planning and law reform.  

In providing this support, a capacity building workshop was held in Hanoi in early November 2022. The workshop provided Vietnam with insights into Australia’s own water resource journey; a story that includes the importance of water to the First Australians, and the period of water resource development including the needs of the early miners, navigation in the lower Murray, the development of dams for irrigation and an evolution to a broader understanding of sustainable water management.

This journey has relevance to the challenges of managing water needs in Vietnam including the need to account for surface and groundwater interaction, environmental and cultural needs, the importance of compliance and an increasing recognition that there is a need to consider the role that water may play in the economic needs of diverse communities.  

Ms Rebecca Schwarzman of RMCG presents to the workshop. Also pictured is Dr Thuy Anh Nguyen, Head of Development Cooperation, DWRM and Mr Ngo Manh Ha, Deputy Director General of DWRM (Image: RMCG)

The emphasis on the Australian experience was through the Water Entitlement Framework to cap surface and groundwater diversions and to have mechanisms in place for the sharing of water during years of scarcity when full entitlements are unable to be delivered.  

Twenty-five agency personnel from Vietnam’s agencies attended the workshop. The diversity in representation bodes well for Vietnam in progressing the principles of Gender Equality Diversity and Social Inclusion (GEDSI). Enthusiasm and interest in understanding and learning from the Australian experience was apparent in the range of questions and the extent to which a broad spectrum of participants expressed their views and raised issues of interest.  

As the Australian Partners have been working closely with other agencies in Vietnam, the workshop also provided an opportunity to encourage knowledge sharing across multiple Australian Water Partnership projects. National Consultant Dr Toan Trinh presented a brief summary of work on the Environmental Flow Framework being developed by an AWP team led by Alluvium, and Mr Nguyen Van Manh from the Institute of Water Resource Planning presented a case study application of a pilot Water Allocation Framework to a regional scale irrigation system in the Bình Thuận province. In developing this pilot, Mr Nguyen Van Manh, Mrs Le Thi Phuong Hong and their team from the Institute of Water Resource Planning worked closely with RMCG who have for a number of years providing technical support through AWP to the Water Efficiency Improvement in Drought Affected Provinces (WEIDAP) initiative in the south-central coast and central highlands area of Vietnam.  

Reflecting on the workshop, Mr Ngo Manh Ha, Deputy Director General from Vietnam’s Department of Water Resources Management who chaired the workshop, said the day had delivered a “very informative and interactive workshop” and hoped some of the key lessons learned from Australia could be adapted and effectively applied to Viet Nam. In closing he said that MONRE was looking forward to enhancing the long-term partnership between Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (through AWP) and MONRE, and being part of the journey in assisting in the reform of Vietnam’s water sector.

Featured image: Dr Thuy Anh Nguyen, Head of Development Cooperation, DWRM, facilitates discussions with some of the twenty-five workshop participants. Image: RMCG
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