Can Tho City, the biggest city in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam, is facing substantial water and climate change challenges ranging from chronic seasonal flooding in the rainy season to dry season droughts as well as water pollution and salinization.
Rapid urbanization over the last two decades has left a sprawling growth of residential, commercial and industrial areas that has resulted in an increase in water pollution.
Many people in the city’s 1.25 million population have inadequate access to clean water supply and sanitation.
Access to clean water varies between urban and peri-urban areas, and poorer sections of the peri-urban areas, and especially women, are more affected.
Ms Lam Van Phung, from An Binh ward in Can Tho City, says that in the past, communities used water from the Hau River.
“However, due to the impact of sewage from factories which kill the river fish and pollute the environment, we realized that water from the river could be dangerous for us, so we don’t use the river water anymore. Now we use the tap water”, she said.
She views the lack of clean, drinking water as a serious problem for women’s health and hygiene especially for those who don’t have or can’t afford to get tap water. “Some houses are located remotely, far away in the alley, where tap water system finds it hard to reach. They have no other choice but to use river water”, she added.
“Making room for the river”: Coping with floods in the Mekong Delta
Climate studies show that Can Tho City and the Mekong Delta are vulnerable to several climate change impacts including more extreme weather events such as typhoons, floods and drought, affecting people’s livelihoods and reducing agricultural productivity.
The rising seawater levels are already leading to an increase in salinity in fresh water sources, posing a threat to water supply for urban consumption and irrigation, as potable groundwater becomes scarce. Sea level rise would also result in the displacement of millions of people throughout the Delta region.
Dr. Ky Quang Vinh, Director of Climate Change Coordination Office of Can Tho City, said that Can Tho City has faced both flooding and drought in recent years. During the floods, Can Tho River often rises to very high levels. “Since 2000, each year the water level rises higher than the previous year.
“We need to reserve water and pump water into the ground water [aquifers] because currently they are severely lacking in water. If we have enough ground water, we will have enough water for daily use even during the drought years”, he said.
“The second kind of construction is to build channels to divide the floodwaters. In case the water level rises above 3m, the [excess] flow will be redirected to other areas or into the sea”, he added.
Dr. Ky Quang Vinh said that a series of dykes and water gates are needed to “make room for the river” during the rainy season. “When the floodwaters come, and the river reaches a certain level, for example, 3m, we will close all the gates. This can prevent water from the Hau Giang or Tien Giang Rivers from flowing into the fields and it be redirected into the sea,” he said.
Water management in Can Tho City
Ms Nguyen Thi Mai Tran, a specialist in the Department of Construction, Can Tho City, said that the city is implementing two plans for water management: “A water supply plan from now until 2030 and water drainage plan from now until 2030. Our water supply meets the [current] demand. However, there are still problems with the household waste water treatment. Mostly people dump waste water to the river which is among one of the causes of environmental pollution. The city hasn’t come up with any solution to this problem”, she said.
“The city is trying to cope with the increased salinization of its water supplies, for example, by using automatic surveying station to measure and assess areas facing high risk of salinization”, said Nguyen Minh, Deputy Director of Can Tho City’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment. The City has developed salinization thresholds. For each threshold that is breached, the authorities warn local people and farmers, for example, if salinization in specific areas will affect vegetable farms and livestock.
SUMERNET research partners are exploring ways to find and offer policy solutions for water management in Can Tho City.
“We have learned from each other through this SUMERNET project. It has helped us develop a framework for effective use and management of urban water supply”, said Professor Le Quang Tri, Director of the Research Institute for Climate Change of Can Tho City.
“The SUMERNET research project lays the foundation for using data to support water management in Can Tho City. We hold training programs for Can Tho University in water management in the context of climate change. Moreover, we can apply these water models to other provinces in the Mekong River Delta affected by climate change”, he said.
Learn more about SUMERNET work on managing water in Can Tho City.