Vietnam’s key river basins, i.e. the Red Thai Binh, Mekong, SERC, and Dong Nai, generate approximately 80% of Vietnam’s GDP and will all face water stress in the dry season by 2030. The agriculture sector uses 82% of Vietnam’s water but contributes merely 22% to the national GDP. Irrigation efficiency stands at only 68%. Industry uses 5% of Vietnam’s water resources and contributes 39% of the GDP, and is growing fast (at an estimated 7% in 2016). With only 10% of municipal and industrial wastewater treated, Vietnam’s surface waters face serious pollution issues. Many rivers in and around major cities are considered “dead rivers,” thus increasing groundwater dependence and over-extraction.
Industry is driving Vietnam’s rapid economic growth, but it is contributing to high pollution levels. This rapid industrial development as well as urbanization is what is putting the greatest pressure on Vietnam’s water resources as only 12.5% of urban wastewater and 71% of industrial wastewater is treated before discharge. Unless urgent actions are taken, economic growth risks slowing down due to mounting problems of water pollution and related environmental impacts, and hence the lack of availability of good quality water. Pollution-related impacts may lead to a 3.5% reduction of the national GDP by 2035 under a business-as-usual scenario.
Water resources are already coming under stress, manifesting in gaps between supply and demand in certain locations and seasons. Vietnam could experience severe freshwater shortfalls in some river basins unless action is taken to improve efficiency now. In particular, the river basins generating 80% of Vietnam’s GDP are all expected to face water stress in the dry season by 2030. The South Eastern River Cluster river basin, a severely water-stressed basin, is projected to experience a 28% water gap in the dry season by 2030.
Competition between sectors is growing. Rising demand for water from the urban, industrial, and hydropower sectors is competing with the agriculture sector, which currently uses 80% of water in the country. This is in part explained by the fact that only 20% of farmland is under drip irrigation.
Climate change will further exacerbate the situation, causing variability in water availability across regions and seasons. In addition, Vietnam is a country prone to natural disasters with high water-related costs of disaster, amounting to as much as 1 to 1.5% of the GDP over the last two decades.
The 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) is a public, private, civil society partnership that supports country-level collaboration designed to unite diverse groups with a common interest in the sustainable management of water resources.