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An 'eye-opening experience': reflections from Vietwater'19

Last year, Christopher Lee and Ruth Cockerton from the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning attended Vietwater, thanks to the support of the Australian Water Association (AWA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Here, Christopher shares what he learnt about the water challenges facing Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City.

One of the key lessons I took away was simply the diversity of the water sector. Not only all the different technologies, but the different contexts and climates within different countries. One of the things we realised quite quickly upon our arrival in Ho Chi Minh was that when it rains, it rains a lot. This was flagged in the Consul-General’s presentation about how the city’s District 2 is prone to floods.

This pretty much turned my understanding of water sensitive urban design and integrated water management on its head, given the very different conditions between Australia and Vietnam – if only Australia had more rain in the right areas. Similarly, during our challenge workshops, we also discovered that Vietnam faces very different potable water supply and sewerage challenges, especially with a totally different system (based on rivers rather than dams).

Two food-for-thought issues that struck me were:

  • while treated water out of the treatment plants is safe to drink, it is actually the piping network that could contaminate the supply due to old piping and potential leaks
  • only about 10% of the sewage in Vietnam is actually treated (and I don’t want to think about where the rest of the 90% currently goes…)

With a booming economy, I look forward to seeing how Vietnam meets its water, health and sanitation goals, especially given the emphasis on public health at the moment with the COVID-19 pandemic.

What also amazed me was also the VietWater convention itself, and in particular the breadth and diversity of all the countries involved and the latest technologies being displayed. Kudos to AWA for coming up with a very swish, coordinated and literally prize-winning Australia Pavilion once again. It was also great seeing the Australian technologies on display, from tried and trusted water tanks to water quality monitoring services and remote-controlled hardware.

The Australian Pavilion at VietWater 2019.

One last takeaway I would like to raise is the great networking that was available to young water professionals (YWPs). It was an eye-opening experience to get to meet so many talented people and decision makers from across the sector, including diplomats, water sector experts, fellow Australians in the water sector, and even the New South Wales Deputy Premier, and to hear their perspectives on the industry.

I greatly enjoyed liaising with our local Vietnamese counterparts and, at the same time, learning more about our own country’s interstate water sectors, which are similar yet also quite different to Victoria. This was coupled with a steep learning curve in regard to diplomatic protocol and the differences between Consul-General, Ambassador and appropriate terms of address of which I won’t forget!

It was a great privilege to get to know other passionate individuals within the sector and to represent the Victorian Government and the AWA YWPs. Here’s a big shout out to Robbie and Paul for bringing it together and guiding us along this journey!