RECHARGE: Safeguarding groundwater for all in Vietnam's Mekong Delta

A woman researcher from Can Tho University, crouching down holding a measuring device in a bucket of water at an onion farm in Vinh Chau, Mekong Delta region, Vietnam. She is measuring the groundwater salinity.

A researcher from local partner Can Tho University measures groundwater salinity at an onion farm in Vinh Chau, Vietnam  (UTS-ISF / Diana Gonzalez)


The impact of climate change is already evident in the Mekong Delta, posing a direct threat to water security for millions of communities. A government official in Vietnam unsercores the urgency of finding solutions to water security issues in the region: "There is no freshwater for daily use, so everyone depends on groundwater for domestic needs and crops. We have a lot of demand for water, so the water level is decreasing rapidly, and we estimate that every year the water level goes down half a metre."


Led by the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF), Australia's Water for Women project, Resilience in a Changing Climate (RECHARGE), is investigating strategies to harness and safeguard groundwater for climate resilience. The project spans Vietnam, Indonesia, and Vanuatu. In Vietnam, UTS-ISF partners with Can Tho University (CTU).


During a visit to Can Tho to meet with research partners. UTS-ISF researchers spoke to different people, including local and provincial government officials, academics, farmers, households, and water service providers, to betterunderstand the complexities involved in using and relying on groundwater in the Mekong Delta. There was a lot of interest generated from the research, particularly among local government officials, who shared their concern for the groundwater situation in one of the project locations: 


“Because of the decreasing water level, we want to protect resources for the future. We are interested in solutions and best ways to restore and protect groundwater. We need to find a balance between using groundwater for development and preserving it, and we’re looking for strategies and approaches to achieve this.”


He also spoke about the difficulties of monitoring and regulating groundwater use, with an estimated 27,000 wells in their area, but only 2,000 that are registered and monitored, posing great challenges for the government.


Two onion farmers in Vinh Chau, Mekong Delta region, Vietnam, harvesting their crop from a ploughed field.
Onion farmers in Vinh Chau harvest their crop (UTS-ISF / Diana Gonzalez)

An onion farmer reflected on the declining water levels, which led him to drill a second and deeper borehole to access enough water to irrigate his crops. However, he also shared how this improvement has significantly increased his electricity bills, which raises questions about the affordability of accessing groundwater for farmers and households. Another farmer shared his experience of choosing to convert his rice fields to shrimp farms due to the increased salinity of groundwater and fluctuations in rice crop market prices.  


Researchers also met with community members. One woman who spoke about having to manage seasonal availability of water to ensure her household always gets enough water to meet all their needs. She explained that she uses groundwater, rainwater, and piped water at different times and for different purposes. Others highlighted concerns related to population growth, urbanisation, changes in land use and groundwater abstraction, and social and economic issues around affordability, accessibility, and gender equality.


After gaining these first-hand insights into the complex system interactions of using groundwater in the Mekong Delta, the UTS-ISF and CTU teams co-designed the RECHARGE research approach to explore how groundwater can be harnessed and protected to facilitate improved climate resilience of inclusive, safely managed WASH services.


Water for Women partners with UTS-ISF and local partners for the RECHARGE research project, which by the end of this year, aims to generate new knowledge and tools to support governments to develop and manage groundwater resources for resilient, inclusive services. This research is addressing challenges at the groundwater-climate-WASH-inclusion nexus in three climate-vulnerable contexts common in the Asia-Pacific - islands, deltas, and cities.


World Water Day is observed annually on 22 March and this year's theme, 'Water for peace', emphasises the importance of working together to balance everyone’s needs, to ensure that no one is left behind in access to clean water and safe sanitation, and to make water a catalyst for a more peaceful future. 

As the lifeblood of any community, when water is scarce, polluted, denied or usage unfairly shared, conflicts can arise or intensify. For women and girls, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups, water insecurity exacerbates inequities and has disproportionate impacts, including on their health and well-being. Water conflict also increases the risk of violence.

Throughout the world, women are at the frontlines of climate change and it's impacts on water security. With primary responsibility for meeting caregiving and household water needs, including for sanitation and hygiene (WASH), women are water experts in their communities.

Every day, women are brokering peace, driving sustainable agriculture for food security, and delivering WASH for the health and well-being of their families and communities. Women and water can lead us out of this crisis. 

But women cannot do it alone. As climate change impacts increase, and populations grow, we must unite to advance gender equality and accelerate progress on SDG6 - Water and sanitation for all. Everyone has a role to play in creating a fairer and more cohesive society

Throughout Asia and the Pacific, Water for Women partners are working with communities, governments, researchers, rights holder organisations, and service providers in 16 countries to deliver climate-resilient and inclusive water and WASH services for all. Together, we are accelerating progress for SDG6 for a water secure and peaceful future for all.


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