A Vietnamese village changes its water habits

By: Karin Bo Bergquist

The view over the bright green rice fields lit by the setting sun, with the odd straw hat visible here and there, between neatly demarcated fields may be idyllic, but the view and the smell when you approach the houses in the poor part of Buôn Ma Thuôt village is anything but idyllic.

Until recently, the locals washed in the river, which was also where they washed their clothes and cleaned their pots and pans. The streets were covered in waste, both solid and liquid. A Danish aid programme has helped clean up.

Twenty-eight submersible pumps have been installed, and three pumping stations have been built as part of a Danish aid pro-gramme. The programme began towards the end of the 1950s with the purpose of improving the standard of living for the population of the Dak Lak province in Vietnam.

Buôn Ma Thuôt lies in a mountainous area and has 300,000 inhabitants, 30% of which are ethnic minorities. The water flows from the drilled wells to three pumping stations, where it is pumped to high-lying reservoirs. From there, it is directed to the individual households. Each reservoir holds between 15,000 and 20,000 m3 water.

The whole system became much more efficient when the old pumps were replaced by highly effective pumps from Grundfos. The total electricity consumption was reduced by 30%.

Presents with strings attached
The presents require the locals to take responsibility. Water meters have been installed in all the households in the area, as the locals have to pay for the operating costs of the water supply system.

Workshops were organised before the work commenced and the pumps demonstrated, as it is part of the ideology underlying the project that the users should be involved right from the start. The project has also contributed to creating employment in the area. Today, five Vietnamese engineers and twenty-five workers are employed full time at the local waterworks.

Waste in the streets
Another component in the aid programme in Buôn Ma Thuôt for 2003-2006 involves sewage system and sewage treatment. The aim is to treat the sewage as cheaply as possible, and the chosen method is to lead the sewage into dams, where the rays of the sun clean the water.

If you go for a walk in the area, the problem becomes all too obvious. Toilet waste is led directly from pipes protruding from the houses into open gutters. During floods, the waste flows through the village towards the river. This results in an increased risk of diseases. As part of the project, the local population is informed about hygiene – the adults by means of campaigns, e.g. on the local TV channel; the children are taught hygiene at school.

The project, which has contributed to the establishment of three pumping stations, 10 reservoirs and 28 deep wells in Buôn Ma Thuôt, is financed to the extent of DKK 120 million by Danida under its Mixed Credit programme, which totals DKK 300 million over the next five years.