The ties between Vietnam and the Netherlands in the area of water were further strengthened during the successful Dutch trade mission from 7 to 12 April with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen of Infrastructure and Water Management and a large number of companies. Robbert Moree, Manager Delta Team Vietnam, looks back on a fruitful visit, both for the two countries and for the Dutch water sector. Read his blog.
"Helping Vietnam move forward in a way that also benefits Dutch companies was a major theme during the trade mission, and I am very pleased with the results we achieved. A few milestones really stand out. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte signed a Memorandum of Understanding for water management and food security, focusing on the Mekong Delta. Vietnam could really benefit from an agricultural transition, for example by repealing the triple rice harvesting method. In the past, Vietnamese rice farmers had two harvests a year, and between the harvests they flooded the fields to allow new sediment in. Later, dikes were built and fertiliser took the place of sedimentation making three harvests a year possible. But, on balance, this hardly produces any extra earnings for the farmers and it moreover worsens the subsidence of the delta area.
Our models have shown that, if nothing changes, in 70 years’ time half of the Mekong delta could simply disappear because of subsidence. The land is already sinking by a few centimetres a year and in the future this will be exacerbated by the expected rise in sea level. This same delta is one of the largest producers and exporters of rice in the world. And rice is Vietnam’s staple crop. Cooperation between water and agriculture, the so-called water-agriculture nexus, in which Lies Janssen from NWP and I have invested a lot of energy, is therefore extremely important. The strategy also includes other crops such as salt-resistant crops, reducing the use of chemicals. It also considers the components of the entire value chain, such as post-harvest logistics and branding.
The mission also resulted in the special request from the Vietnamese government to help establish a coordination committee for the Mekong Delta, the Vietnamese version of our Delta Commission. This committee of specialists will be positioned above the ministries to speed up the decision-making process. In addition, it has requested help to set up a Delta financing fund to pave the way from strategic plans to actual implementation.
The new agreements between the two countries fit into their long-term cooperation. In October 2010, both countries established a strategic partnership on climate change adaptation and water management. At the end of 2013, Vietnam and the Netherlands unfolded their Mekong Delta Plan, a strategic vision for the delta, funded through the Partners for Water Programme. In 2017, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc presented Resolution 120 during the Mekong Delta Conference, in which he basically endorsed all Dutch recommendations. This of course strengthened support for the vision we developed.
Implementation is the next challenge, with which the financing fund can help. And equally important, as part of a World Bank programme, the Ministry of Planning and Investment recently appointed Royal HaskoningDHV to deliver the first integrated Master Plan for the Mekong Delta. A nice spin-off of the Partners for Water Programme.
Governance, capacity building and the development of pilot projects that lead by example are the leading three focus areas of the Partners for Water Programme in Vietnam. Within the framework of the Programme, efforts are being made to create the best possible conditions for Dutch initiatives and activities. Dutch water authorities have been working on improving governance and capacity building in and around Ho Chi Minh City. This approach can be rolled out for the entire delta once Vietnam becomes a partner country in the Blue Deal Programme. And in addition to this, Dutch water companies can develop inspiring initiatives in the Mekong delta with the WaterWorX programme.
Pilot projects are very important as the Vietnamese people need to see evidence that something really works in practice. At the same time, the decision-making in political and administrative authorities can be cumbersome; it is sometimes testing for us to experience a slow system. But looking objectively, we have actually achieved a lot since 2010 and we need to be realistic. In the Netherlands we also spent six years preparing a new delta programme, and implementing it takes decades.
The great thing is that all these initiatives interlock and reinforce each other. How did we attain – with relatively modest means – the position of the country’s first water adviser, you might ask? The explanation is that we chose a long-term, step by step approach and always showed our commitment. We have also shown examples of the Dutch approach that have been successfully implemented in the Netherlands that could solve water challenges in Vietnam. But also important is that we have a kind of click – just like the Dutch, the Vietnamese can be direct and straightforward.
It goes without saying that we will continue to work on improving the accessibility of the Vietnamese market for foreign companies and on implementing strategic plans. With all the limitations, we now see that the market is gradually opening up. And when it does our strong position offers clear opportunities."
Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is one of the deltas for which intensive cooperation is sought within the Partners for Water Programme of the Netherlands. Given that the Mekong Delta is crucially important for food security in Vietnam, the focus is currently on developments within the water and agrifood sector.
For more information, please contact Lies Janssen, email@example.com or Trang Schuurman-Vu, firstname.lastname@example.org.