Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Country Water ActionsViet Nam: From Interim to Permanent
Web Writer Tien Giang Province’s small towns, deemed unserviceable bymajor water utilities, found a permanent solution to theirbig water problem in small piped water networks.
SIZE DOES NOT MATTER
Big does not alwaysmean best. WhenViet Nam’s TienGiang Province wasselected as projectsite for piloting smallpiped water networks(SPWNs), it was onthe premise thatthese small pipedsystems wouldprovide a short-term,interim solution to the province’s water problem. The morepermanent solution—connections from the water companywith its huge pipes—has long been overdue.In 2005, Asian Development Bank (ADB) embarked on apilot project promoting the use of small piped waterproviders (SPWPs) for speedy piped water delivery in slumcommunities. SPWPs are businesses owned by persons orsmall organizations that provide piped water from variouswater sources for a certain fee. Two communes in the TienGang province, Tan Huong and Tan Ly Tay, became thedemonstration sites.ADB’s hypothesis was that SPWNs, a system used by small-scale piped water providers, offer temporary yet building-block solutions to the water problems in urban poorcommunities. But SPWNs offered so much more to TienGiang. In only three months, 9,200 meters of pipes for 500sets of water connections were installed, benefiting morethan 2,500 people.
TAPS IN TIEN GIANG
Tien Giang province, an agricultural expanse along theMekong River Delta, is home to 1.7 million people. My ThoCity is the province’s political, economic, cultural, andtechnological center. The province has 32 kilometers of coastline with many canals and rivers. Besides these waterresources, good quality groundwater is also abundant,though not equally distributed throughout the province. Italso rains from May to November.According to the 2006 annual report of the Tien GiangProvincial People’s Committee, the number of householdsthat have access to “clean water” (piped or nonpiped water)has been steadily increasing since the turn of themillennium—from 57% in 2000 to 86% in 2006. Theincrease can be attributed to the provincial government’s1998 “socialization” policy that authorized the private sectorto participate in the provision of water services. “Socialization means authorizing various social and economicsectors to participate in the provision of public services,whether state-owned enterprises, or the private sector orcooperatives or individuals,” explained Le Anh Dao, ADB’spilot project officer and Deputy Director of the Saigon WaterCompany. “It is different from privatization,” she addedResponsible for the province’s urban water supply service isthe state-owned Tien Giang Water Supply and SewerageCompany. Its distribution system, however, is limited to MyTho City and big urban areas, covering only 40.7% of the800,000 people in its service area.In rural areas, the Tien Giang Water Exploitation and RuralSupply Company (TGWERSC) services even a smallerpercentage of the populace. Where then does the rest of Tien Giang get its water?
INNOVATIVE POLICY PAVES THE WAY
To understand howTien Giang’shouseholds cope withtheir need for safewater, ADB alsocommissioned amarket surveyinvolving some 3,000households and 96piped waterproviders.The survey results reveal that while 67% of householdshave piped water connections from either public or privateproviders, some 33% rely on vendors and non-piped watersources such as rain water, river water, well water, andditch water.Of the households that have piped connections, 32% areunhappy customers because of poor water quality, highconnection fees, and high tariff rates. Tariffs range fromUS$0.10 to US$0.24 per cubic meter. Small piped waterproviders even charge an average US$36.70 per connection,paid upfront. Furthermore, more than a third of piped waterproviders are unable to access funding for rehabilitation orexpansion.Whether by fluke of circumstance or by incredible insight onthe part of Viet Nam’s legislation, Decree 117, whichreconsidered water’s status from a social good to a businesscommodity, was passed in August 2007 while the pilotprojects were in progress. The decree opened up the entiresector to change—high and upfront connections were doneaway with, water connections were offered free or onflexible 12-month installment schemes to the extremelypoor, and water tariffs were adjusted.