The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Upstream-Downstream Water Use and Flows

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on July 22, 2014

In my research on water management in upstream and downstream communities along the Mekong Delta, two sites over 120 kilometres from each other were chosen as case studies – Dong Thap and Tra Vinh Provinces of Vietnam. The upstream Dong Thap Province is prone to floods, pollution and extension (agriculture development), while downstream Tra Vinh Province, often experiences saltwater intrusion, pollution, and extension.

Local farmers living downstream are faced with limited water resources due to reduced water supply from upstream. As a result of various development activities such as rice and vegetable cultivation, aquaculture, and industrialisation, the water flow downstream is much slower. In particular, the development ofof irrigation systems in upstream areas retains much of the water for irrigating the farmlands. For upstream communities, water supply is perceived to be abundant given the natural conditions that make it easily available.

In the contrast, downstream communities are faced with water scarcity, in particular, increasing salinity of water surrounding communities, which has resulted in agricultural farmlands being protected by sluice gates. Fresh water is only accessed from upstream via digging and dredging the canals. Even though the area is protected, local communities are suspicious of the water quality from the canals as there has been a case of salinity due to human activities. Moreover, the conflict between local rice and aquaculture farmers emerges as a result of both sides requiring water of varying quality for their respective activities. A mixing of these two types of water quality, results in the water being polluted and unusable for either side. This problem is particularly acute for downstream communities as they are dependent on the water flow from upstream. Polluted water upstream will therefore mean polluted water downstream.

 The two sites of the research are called , which refers to community settlements located on higher ground than its surrounding areas – a difference of about 1- 2 meters. This geographical difference makes it difficult for communities to develop a proper irrigation system, and therefore resulting in limited availability of water for both household and agricultural use.

 The research also revealed how the implications of existing water management practices could also exacerbate ethnic and gender disparities. In terms of ethnic compositions, Kinh people are predominantly found in the upstream areas while Khmer people are largely located downstream. Poor and near poor households are found downstream, where the ratio of male and female is 4.5:5.5. Research also showed thatwomen were more active water users than men as their time at home and their role in their family are more than men, Poor and near poor households were the most disadvantaged in having access to clean water, as they are unable to afford it. It seems Khmer Ethnic Group is priority water users for clean water and sanitation program in order to according to national policy (Ethnic Group and Poor Group are priority to access clean water for free in the community).

This blog post has been written by Ly Quoc Dang. He is currently Researcher and Teaching Assistant at Mekong Delta Development Research Institute, Can Tho University, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.


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