Country Water Actions

Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals, communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.

Viet Nam: From Interim to Permanent
December 2008

By Cezar Tigno Web Writer Tien Giang Province’s small towns, deemed unserviceable by major water utilities, found a permanent solution to their big water problem in small piped water networks. SIZE DOES NOT MATTER Big does not always mean best. When Viet Nam’s Tien Giang Province was selected as project site for piloting small piped water networks (SPWNs), it was on the premise that these small piped systems would provide a short-term, interim solution to the province’s water problem. The more permanent solution—connections from the water company with its huge pipes—has long been overdue. In 2005, Asian Development Bank (ADB) embarked on a pilot project promoting the use of small piped water providers (SPWPs) for speedy piped water delivery in slum communities. SPWPs are businesses owned by persons or small organizations that provide piped water from various water sources for a certain fee. Two communes in the Tien Gang province, Tan Huong and Tan Ly Tay, became the demonstration sites. ADB’s hypothesis was that SPWNs, a system used by smallscale piped water providers, offer temporary yet buildingblock solutions to the water problems in urban poor communities. But SPWNs offered so much more to Tien Giang. In only three months, 9,200 meters of pipes for 500 sets of water connections were installed, benefiting more than 2,500 people. TAPS IN TIEN GIANG Tien Giang province, an agricultural expanse along the Mekong River Delta, is home to 1.7 million people. My Tho City is the province’s political, economic, cultural, and technological center. The province has 32 kilometers of coastline with many canals and rivers. Besides these water resources, good quality groundwater is also abundant, though not equally distributed throughout the province. It also rains from May to November. According to the 2006 annual report of the Tien Giang Provincial People’s Committee, the number of households that have access to “clean water” (piped or nonpiped water) has been steadily increasing since the turn of the millennium—from 57% in 2000 to 86% in 2006. The increase can be attributed to the provincial government’s 1998 “socialization” policy that authorized the private sector to participate in the provision of water services. “Socialization means authorizing various social and economic sectors to participate in the provision of public services, whether state-owned enterprises, or the private sector or cooperatives or individuals,” explained Le Anh Dao, ADB’s pilot project officer and Deputy Director of the Saigon Water Company. “It is different from privatization,” she added Responsible for the province’s urban water supply service is the state-owned Tien Giang Water Supply and Sewerage Company. Its distribution system, however, is limited to My Tho City and big urban areas, covering only 40.7% of the 800,000 people in its service area. In rural areas, the Tien Giang Water Exploitation and Rural Supply Company (TGWERSC) services even a smaller percentage of the populace. Where then does the rest of Tien Giang get its water? INNOVATIVE POLICY PAVES THE WAY To understand how Tien Giang’s households cope with their need for safe water, ADB also commissioned a market survey involving some 3,000 households and 96 piped water providers. The survey results reveal that while 67% of households have piped water connections from either public or private providers, some 33% rely on vendors and non-piped water sources such as rain water, river water, well water, and ditch water. Of the households that have piped connections, 32% are unhappy customers because of poor water quality, high connection fees, and high tariff rates. Tariffs range from US$0.10 to US$0.24 per cubic meter. Small piped water providers even charge an average US$36.70 per connection, paid upfront. Furthermore, more than a third of piped water providers are unable to access funding for rehabilitation or expansion. Whether by fluke of circumstance or by incredible insight on the part of Viet Nam’s legislation, Decree 117, which reconsidered water’s status from a social good to a business commodity, was passed in August 2007 while the pilot projects were in progress. The decree opened up the entire sector to change—high and upfront connections were done away with, water connections were offered free or on flexible 12-month installment schemes to the extremely poor, and water tariffs were adjusted.

FROM INTERIM TO PERMANENT The pilot projects in Tan Huong and Tan Ly Tay communes have clearly demonstrated SPWN’s potential. SPWNs stand out as the most desirable way of connecting Tien Giang’s poor households. They are also environmentally beneficial, as they put an end to uncontrolled well-drilling that can lead to soil subsidence and groundwater table pollution. With most of Tien Giang still without piped water connections, a huge market awaits small scale water services providers using SPWNs. But a lot more still needs to be done by the Tien Giang government and its development partners. These include Replicating the pilot projects in other unserved areas of Tien Giang Assisting piped water providers in bringing piped water connections in terms of financing Establishing groundwater treatment facilities, especially for iron and manganese removal and chlorination, sanitation improvement, and sustainable development of water supply Building piped water providers’ capacity, particularly on groundwater treatment technologies and nonrevenue water management In Viet Nam’s case at least, SPWNs do not offer interim solutions—they are the permanent solution to bringing piped water connections to poor households and communities. The success of this initiative in Viet Nam, however, now begs the question, are ADB and other development agencies ready to promote SPWNs as longterm rather than interim solutions?

RELATED LINKS Delivering Piped Water on a Small Scale: Results of ADB’s Water Supply Service Survey in Manila Small Piped Water Networks Deliver in the Interim

_______________________________ *This article was first published online at ADB's Water for All website in December 2008: /Water/Actions/vie/Small-InnovationPermanent-Solution.asp. The Country Water Action series was developed to showcase reforms and good practices in the water sector undertaken by ADB’s member countries. It offers a mix of experience and insights from projects funded by ADB and those undertaken directly by civil society, local governments, the private sector, media, and the academe. The Country Water Actions are regularly featured in ADB’s Water for All News, which covers water sector developments in the Asia and Pacific region.

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