Sustainable and fair access to water in northern Vietnam

CWS Vietnam | September 17, 2016

A La Hu women using water tank in Me Giong Sept 2016

A La Hu women using water tank in Me Giong Sept 2016

The remote village of Me Giong is in Ka Lang commune in Muong Te district in northern Vietnam. It is just six miles from the border with China. The village is made up of about 80 families, almost all of whom are of the Ha Nhi ethnic minority. The community’s water source is a gravity-fed system, which means that water is piped down from the hills into the community.

The old pipe in Me Giong was not properly maintained, and over time it wore down and broke. Without the water system, community members walked to a nearby stream to collect water and for bathing, washing clothes and often defecation. Although it wasn’t a long walk, it was a rugged and time-consuming one.

At the request of our local government partner, CWS visited the village to meet families and community leaders and assess the situation. Two main issues became apparent. There was almost no management of the old water system. Furthermore, there was no way of controlling how much water each household was using. Houses upstream were inadvertently using too much water, so houses downstream were facing water shortages. The pipe was also broken in several places, so the water that was left for downstream houses would often leak out of holes in the pipe before reaching its destination.

Ly Phi Nha and his wife Chu Lo Xa were among the families affected by the water shortages. They earn their living through hillside farming and poultry. Although both husband and wife are functionally illiterate and have only a primary school education, they are supporting their two sons’ educations. Their older son is in grade seven at the local junior secondary school, and their mom tells us that she expects both sons to finish secondary school through grade 12.

The family told CWS staff that they used to collect stream water with buckets and store it in plastic containers. They later built a brick water tank after attending a CWS awareness-raising session about sanitation, but they still faced a water shortage because both the broken pipe and the annual dry season. When there wasn’t enough water in the tank, the family collected water from the stream twice each day. The first was early in the morning before going to the field or to school, and the second was in the late afternoon. Both sons would forego brushing their teeth before going to school to save water.

Ly Phi Nha and Chu Lo Xa raised the issue with the community leadership, but there was little that could be done about it. Once our partners reached out to CWS, though, we were able to hold community discussions and investigate the root causes of the water shortages and how to solve them.

What emerged was a coordinated solution, developed with extensive input, recommendations and planning from community members. CWS supplied more than half a mile of new pipe, and the community members took care of digging the trough for the pipe and burying it. Each family now has a water meter and pays an affordable amount – for Ly Phi Nha and Chu Lo Xa, it is about $2 US each month – for water usage. This is helping to balance out the amount of water that each family uses. The money is used to pay a community member to manage the bookkeeping and collect fees for the project and repair the pipes when necessary.

This sustainable solution has helped ensure that water is available to each family in the community and that the system is taken care of. In Chu Lo Xa’s words, “Now we feel more comfortable while working in the field without thinking of having to leave earlier to collect and carry buckets of water home. We also no longer have to go to the stream for bathing and washing clothes. Our boys also enjoy time after school without worrying of helping us collect and carry water.”

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