Fragilecologies: Water Affairs in Vietnam

Exciting things are happening in faraway places. I say that because it is true wherever you live on Planet Earth. What is sparking this statement, however, is my recent trip to Vietnam in order to run a first-ever workshop entitled “Water Affairs”. Perhaps not well-known outside that country, there is a university devoted to the study of various aspects of water, Water Resources University (WRU). It has more than 9,000 students, and it grants degrees from the Bachelor to the PhD level. WRU has campuses located in both Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam is a country dependent on its water resources. It has become increasingly concerned about the quantity and quality of those water resources, as well as continuing access to that water. The pressures on Vietnam 's water supplies (perhaps a better term than water resources) are many, both within the country as well as outside of it. For starters, an estimated 63 percent of the water in its territory comes from other countries by way of rivers. The remaining 37 percent falls directly on its territory, according to country reports. There are pressures from population, such as increasing numbers of people expecting a share of existing, finite water supplies as well as from the population's increasing level of affluence and the country's heightened drive for economic development.

Water quality is a major issue, nationally and locally, as polluted waters are to be found everywhere throughout the country, despite attempts and hopes to clean up its water supplies. Access is yet another issue for the country, as it does not have direct control over resources from rivers that originate upstream in other countries, like China, for example, and the Mekong River. China is building seven dams upstream (three are already finished), and this affects the ability of Vietnam to manage the Mekong 's streamflow on its territory because of untimely and unexpected releases of water from dams, which fit China 's short-term upstream needs and not the needs or concerns of downstream users.

The notion of “Water Affairs” is designed to put water as the centerpiece of a multidisciplinary educational and training activity related to global changes, natural as well as changes that are human-induced. It encompasses aspects of the following: water science, water impacts on ecosystems and societies, water law, policy & politics, water economics, and water ethics & equity. These aspects serve as a checklist to assure that each aspect receives attention of water-related educators and trainers who, in turn, educate and train their students and participants, respectively.

Vietnam 's Water Resources University was founded in 1959 and has focused its programs on “education, technological and scientific research within the water sector, environmental assessment, exploitation, utilization and protection of water resources and natural disaster prevention and management."

Today, WRU is embarking on an ambitious 15-year project to enhance and upgrade current programs and to develop new ones in order to make it a world-class university for the education and training of individuals in water resources and water resources-related issues. Its geographic scope extends from mountain tops to the marine environment, given that Vietnam has a 3,300-km-long coastline. The protein taken from marine resources comes from what geographer Georg Borgstrom referred to as “ghost acres.” The term "ghost acres" refers to the land space that would be required to produce the same amount of protein for human consumption from land. In other words, it supplements to a significant degree Vietnam 's land-based food productivity and production. The university is working with DANIDA (Denmark International Development), and others, to develop an aggressive future plan for the university. Now is a good time to seek partnerships of some sort with this university and its faculty in a wide range of disciplines, even if certain activities do not appear explicitly in their new plan.

For some insight into our recent workshop in Hanoi, please see the website at www.ccb.ucar.edu/waf and for more information about Water Resources University, please see its website (in English) at www.hwru.edu.vn/english.

By: Michael H. Glantz
Source: Fragilecologies

--Michael H. Glantz

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