Water management lessons in Vietnam
Finland has made a significant contribution to the development of water management in Vietnam’s major cities. The work is still ongoing in 20 smaller towns.
The top floor of the water treatment facility in Hanoi is home to a room full of history. The walls are adorned with photographs, maps and certificates. Around the room, there are keepsakes, flags and miscellaneous items in glass cabinets.
This “museum” has strong ties to Finland, as many of the items on display are related to Finnish-Vietnamese development cooperation.
The roots of development cooperation in Vietnamese water management extend all the way back to 1985, which is when Finland began supporting the construction of Hanoi’s water supply system. The cooperation continued until 2001 and brought clean water to 600,000 people, more than half of the city’s residents.
Finnish water seen as a guarantee of quality
After decades of war, Hanoi suffered from extremely poor infrastructure. Organising water management was one of the top priorities for the people of Hanoi.
“We successfully implemented new water treatment technology during the first three years of the project. This had a positive impact on the entire city through the modernisation of the water supply,” explains Nguyen Tri Khoa, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Hanoi Water Company.
“Finnish water” was widely recognised as a guarantee of quality at the time.
“It was important for the people of Hanoi to have Finnish water from Finnish experts,” says Trinh Kim Giang, Deputy General Director of Hanoi Water, who was personally involved in the project since its inception.
The close long-term cooperation between Hanoi Water and Finnish water management consultants lives on in many stories and memories.
Training was an important aspect of the development cooperation project throughout its entire duration.
“Most importantly of all, many of our employees received valuable training from the Finns. The lessons they learned have since borne fruit, not only here at Hanoi Water, but also in the city in a broader sense.”
The Haiphong success story
An extensive investment programme was launched in 1990 to improve water management and sanitation in Haiphong, the largest port in Northern Vietnam.
The success of the programme is evidenced by the fact that the Haiphong water treatment plant is still the only facility in Vietnam that meets WHO standards for drinking water quality.
Cooperation in water management has also given rise to business opportunities. For example, Antti Nykänen, the man who designed Hanoi’s water management master plan, still lives in the city and operates a water management consultancy.
Much work remains in improving water management and sanitation in smaller towns
Midway through the 2000s, the focus of Finnish-Vietnamese water management cooperation shifted to smaller towns in four provinces. Three years ago, the water management and sanitation programme was expanded to cover another four provinces. The project cluster currently comprises 22 water management projects and 19 sewage and wastewater purification projects.
The development cooperation funds allocated to the projects total 31.3 million euros.
“At times, the projects have suffered from excessive expectations, and many of the provinces have failed to prioritise sanitation to a sufficient degree,” says water management consultant Antti Rautavaara.
“It took 15 years to create a sustainable foundation for operations in Hanoi and Haiphong. When it came to the organisation of water management, wastewater purification systems and related administrative structures in individual small towns, some expected that the required level of economical sustainability could be achieved in just 4–6 years.”
Rautavaara suggests that the main bottleneck slowing down development is training the administrative personnel of water and wastewater treatment plants. Monitoring the programme across eight provinces and some twenty towns also has its own challenges.
The roles of client, vendor and supervisor have also become mixed up in certain construction projects due to the high level of autonomy in local government at the provincial level.
The problems of the water management projects in small towns were discussed in Finnish-Vietnamese cooperation negotiations in June.
Plans for the third phase of the project, with an emphasis on sustainability, are now underway. The goal of the third phase is to create a sustainable foundation for sanitation in the participating towns.