Water Journal : Water Journal April 2015
WATER APRIL 2015 12 Postcard POSTCARD FROM VIETNAM From Grace Tjandraatmadja, Engineers Without Borders Greetings from Vietnam! I recently arrived in Vietnam as a volunteer working with Engineers Without Borders and Habitat for Humanity, on a project to develop housing support services and market-based approaches that will expand the affordable housing sector, incorporating access to water, sanitation and climate-resilient shelter, and reach more people in need. Vietnam often evokes images of rice paddies in the Mekong delta and idyllic Halong Bay scenery. But Vietnam is also the source of much of the clothing sold in major fashion chain stores overseas, a major agricultural exporter and the second largest coffee producer in the world (yes, that instant coffee you have in the office might be coming from here!). It has also been a large international aid recipient since the war. In just over 20 years, Vietnam has undertaken economic and societal changes that may typically take 50–100 years to occur in developed nations. The poverty rate has decreased from 60 to 20.7 per cent of the population1 – however, this percentage still equates to 19 million people, almost the population of Australia. While economic and industrial growth has been encouraging, wealth gains have been inequitable and the country faces significant challenges in many sectors. Seventy-four per cent of the 92 million people live in rural areas, where only 48 per cent have access to clean water, compared to 85 per cent access in urban areas2. The result is a complex and quite unique environment – a communist political system promoting an open market economy, rapidly growing industry and urban sectors in a mostly agrarian community (74 per cent rural population), a society of merging traditional and emerging values, and a host of challenges associated with rapid development. Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) is a perfect example of the country’s ongoing transformation and challenges. The business and finance centre of Vietnam, it is a city of nine million people, the largest in the country and at the forefront of embracing the open market economy. Complex, multifaceted and dynamic, it is a mesh of eastern and western values and full of surprises. Consisting of multiple quarters, or districts, with their own characteristics, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking you are in multiple cities. It is a city of contrasts, one that fits many budgets and lifestyles. You can live and spend as if you were in a major city in Australia, by eating in trendy cafes and restaurants and being oblivious to other realities, or spend little and experience the true Asia by living on street food, paying just under a dollar for a BanhMi, the Vietnamese sandwich. On arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, I was immediately greeted by 30°C heat and humidity, and the noises (buzzing and honking) and smells of the traffic (maybe nine million motorbikes?). This will be my home for the next 12 months. To paraphrase Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Oz anymore”. Grace Tjandraatmadja is an Australian Chemical Engineer who has worked in the water industry for 15 years. Grace is now working as a volunteer with Engineers Without Borders and its partner organisation Habitat for Humanity Vietnam, both not-for-profit organisations. Look out for updates from Grace in future editions of Water Journal as the project in Vietnam unfolds. Engineers Without Borders promotes humanitarian engineering to create systemic change and allow everyone to have access to the engineering knowledge and resources required to lead a life of opportunity free from poverty (see www.ewb.org.au). 1 World Bank 2013, Poverty Reduction in Vietnam: Remarkable Progress, Emerging Challenges, January 24, 2013, www.worldbank.org/en/news/ feature/2013/01/24/poverty-reduction-in-vietnam-remarkable-progress-emerging-challenges 2 2004 data in the General Statistics Office of Vietnam – Living Standards Survey 2004.
Water Journal February 2015
Water and CSG