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Vietnam warns that drought and saline intrusion could lead to water shortage

Experts say the problem will not be serious for farming, but water supply plants could be compromised.

Facing drought and saltwater intrusions in southern Vietnam, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh called on authorities to ensure people have sufficient drinking water, a government dispatch said Monday. 

Through mid-May, the Mekong Delta region could experience three waves of saltwater intrusion – when ocean water seeps into sources of freshwater – and so far in 2024, the problem has been much worse than normal, the dispatch said.

The government’s communique came after TV footage showed residents of an apartment complex in Thu Duc, a subcity of Ho Chi Minh City, lined up around the block on April 3, buckets in hand, to get water from a truck. 

The facilities’ 4,000 residents had received a notice that their water would be turned off for maintenance, but experts told Radio Free Asia that water supply issues like these could be caused by a drought in the region and saltwater intrusion.

Experts acknowledged the problem, but were not alarmed, saying that there would be very little effect on agriculture, and issues with water supply to homes would not be too serious.

The management board for the Ehome Phu Huu Residential Complex said on April 4 that water had been restored to the apartment building. RFA Vietnamese contacted the board on April 5, and the person who answered the phone confirmed that water was running but was not able to answer questions about why the water had been shut off.

ENG_VTN_WaterScarcity_04082024.2.JPG
Residents of Ehomes Phu Huu apartment complex, Phu Huu ward, Thu Duc city, Ho Chi Minh City use buckets and basins to collect water from tankers due to water outages April 3, 2024. (laodong.vn)

The Thu Duc Water Supply Company, which provides water to many areas of the city, had announced several suspensions of service on its website, saying that shutting off the water was to “maintain or construct water pipelines” or to “coordinate with the construction of other projects.”

Calls by RFA to the company went unanswered.

Water cuts have been a recurring problem in the city, a resident who wished to remain anonymous due to security reasons, told RFA.

“The situation has been worsening recently. Water cuts often start at 5:30 a.m., and sometimes by 11:00 p.m. we haven’t seen the water back or have only a few drops,” he said. “Having water cuts is terrible. We don’t even have water to wash our hands, not to mention other things.”

Saltwater intrusion

The recurring water cuts are likely the result of saltwater intrusion, Ho Long Phi, the former Director of the Center for Water Management and Climate Change at the National University in Ho Chi Minh City, told RFA.

“According to my assessment, saltwater is intruding further and further inland, affecting water supply plants and, therefore, shortening water supply times,” he said, adding that the effect is most pronounced in the Mekong River Delta in the country’s south, and the Dong Nai River are which flows through Ho Chi Minh City.

He said the problem is not serious enough to bring about water shortages yet, but it does affect the capacity of water supply plants.

ENG_VTN_WaterScarcity_04082024.3.JPG
Residents of Ehomes Phu Huu apartment complex, Phu Huu ward, Thu Duc city, Ho Chi Minh City use buckets and basins to collect water from tankers due to water outages April 3, 2024. (laodong.vn)

The shortage may also be because the drought has dried out some of the places where water is pumped out of the ground, Le Anh Tuan, the Deputy Director of the Climate Change Institute at Can Tho University, told RFA. Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta region in Vietnam.

He said that because these places are drying out, supply plants in Ho Chi Minh City and other places must transport water from elsewhere, which cuts into that location’s supplies.

Additionally coastal areas have to get water from elsewhere as theirs has become too salty, he said, adding that in some cases, the water coming from the tap is salty.

ENG_VTN_WaterScarcity_04082024.4.JPG
Residents of Ehomes Phu Huu apartment complex, Phu Huu ward, Thu Duc city, Ho Chi Minh City use buckets and basins to collect water from tankers due to water outages April 3, 2024. (laodong.vn)

Tuan said that the current drought was not as serious as the one in 2016.

He said that people in the region will have to endure shortages for the next four to six weeks until the rainy season begins.

“Agricultural activities have almost finished, therefore, the damage to agriculture is not significant,” he said. “What concerns me the most is the damage to water supply infrastructure.”

“Consequently, residents (in these rural areas) rely on on-site groundwater, which is neither cost-effective nor environmentally sustainable."

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Vietnamese Service.


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