Since the fast-developing state’s shift from farming to an industrial economy, chemicals, heavy metals and other pollutants have been entering rivers as industrial, medical and domestic wastewater is released untreated.

Water in rivers near Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is now “not at all suitable for agricultural uses and absolutely not available for domestic use,” said Helene Bjerre Jordans, counsellor for environment and development at the Danish Embassy in Hanoi, who was involved in producing the report. Parts of the rivers in urban areas are “dead,” she said – devoid of all plant and animal life.

The Danish International Development Agency and the World Bank assisted the Vietnamese Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in producing the study of three river basins – the Cau and Nhue-Day rivers near Hanoi and the Dong Nai basin around Ho Chi Minh City.

“The chosen river basins are areas of very high economic growth and with high population pressure,” Helene Bjerre Jordans told edie.

Rural areas where river water is often used untreated are most affected, she said: “Rural populations depend on natural sources of water. This is in particular a concern for rural populations living down stream from urban and industrial areas.

But poor urban dwellers are not much better off, as the “dead” parts of rivers are in urban areas and many people do not have access to alternative water sources. “If they are privileged they have piped water for cooking and cleaning. If not, they will have to get water from other sites,” Helene Jordans said.

“There is a risk that they might use the [river] water for laundry or dishes and that could cause diseases,” she added.

The three river basins downstream from Vietnam’s urban centres were chosen because of the high population pressures and industrial activity in those areas. Although water pollution around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is not news, this is the first study to reveal the extent of damage already caused.

Vietnam is one of South East Asia’s fastest developing states, with a goal of becoming a developed country by 2020 fixed by the communist government.

“Vietnam has developed very fast from an agricultural based society towards an industrial-based society. In an agricultural society waste is biodegradable and can be thrown out without major problems,” Helene Jordans explained.

“A developed society has to manage waste differently – each individual has to participate in the first steps of waste collection and not just throw the waste away, expecting someone else to clean it up. The same mentality has to be developed in the industry.”

Goska Romanowicz

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