Vietnam to Bring Water & Sanitation to All

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A robust 15-year commitment helps Vietnam exceed the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for water and sanitation

Twenty-five years ago, roughly 2 out of 5 people in Vietnam did not have access to improved sources of drinking water. Improved sources – mostly tap water and protected wells – were easy to find in cities, but 80% of the population lived in rural areas where tap water was non-existent and protected wells and springs were scarce.

Finding a toilet or latrine was even more difficult. Three out of 5 people did not have access to improved sanitation facilities that keep human excreta away from human contact. And, 2 out of 5 people defecated in the country’s forests, fields and rivers.

“During that time water and sanitation was poor. Child mortality rates were high and outbreaks of cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid were common,” says Dr Nguyen Huy Nga, Senior Advisor, Vietnam Ministry of Health. “With the MDGs, the government strengthened its political commitment and began considering access to water and sanitation as an indicator of socio-economic development.”

The commitment has paid off. Vietnam has not only met the MDG targets to reach 82% and 68% of the population with improved water and sanitation, it has surpassed them. Today, 98% of Vietnam’s more than 90 million residents have access to improved drinking water sources and 78% of the population uses toilets and latrines that meet international standards.

Setting national standards

Meeting the MDG targets was not an easy task. In 2000, with support from WHO, UNICEF, the World Bank and other international organizations, the Government of Vietnam developed the National Rural Clean Water Supply and Sanitation Strategy to 2020. The strategy set the foundation for all government agencies to work towards universal access to water and sanitation – a higher target than the MDGs.

Under the strategy, a three-phase National Target Programme was implemented to measure the country’s progress, and standards for drinking water quantity and quality and sanitation facilities were established.

Improving water quality

In 2008, Vietnam issued regulations to all urban water companies to implement water safety plans – a recommendation under the WHO guidelines. Four years later, it became mandatory for all of Vietnam’s 68 water suppliers to implement water safety plans that eliminate contamination of source water, treat it and prevent recontamination during storage and distribution.

“Vietnam’s efforts over the years have been strong. Before water safety plans were applied, water quality testing was only done at the point of users and there was no way of controlling risks that could occur in the water supply system,” says Tuan Nghia Ton, National Professional Officer, WHO Vietnam. “Today, the country is following the WHO Guidelines for drinking-water quality and implementing water safety plans.”

WHO, with the Government of Vietnam, has supported the training all of the urban water suppliers to implement water safety plans and UNICEF has worked with government counterparts to implement the plans in rural areas.

Because piped water still only reaches 10% of rural households and 61% of urban households, UNICEF has also been working with the Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development to promote household water treatment and storage in communities where people don’t have access to protected water sources.

Source: WHO

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