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Copyright © 1998-2014 Vietnam Venture Group, Inc. All rights reserved.   February 27, 2004

Ho Chi Minh City's Canals -
back from the dead

A wise investment for those with vision

By Tran Dinh Thanh Lam
Reprinted with the kind permission of  Asia Times®

Editor's Note:  From time to time V V G locates worth while articles that help point the way to better investment opportunities. We have been following the development of the nation's water ways now for our ninth year.  The re-birth of a few canals, or strips of canals, rarely attracts much attention unless a foreign investor is really familiar with Vietnam.  Rarely do investors see the opportunity to place development dollars outside the direct scope of their projects.  However, we counsel, we even urge, that investors who seek to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese -- and to attract favorable attention to their main project -- seriously consider adopting a canal in HCMC. This will be viewed by all Vietnamese as a true benefit to the nation as a whole.  That is not a bad idea when trying to win the city planners to approving a project in the nation's financial, manufacturing, and population center. An added bonus is the recovery and sale of heavy metal waste from the canals that often helps to repay a substantial cost of this renovation project.

HO CHI MINH CITY - The Lunar New Year is always met with celebrations in Vietnam, but residents of this southern city should have something more to be happy about in the Year of the Horse, which started on Tuesday. Not only have the authorities here prepared various festivities to mark the event, they are holding them on the banks of Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe canal, which they have managed to bring back to life. They also say this is just the beginning of the fight to win back the city's waterways.

Ho Chi Minh City's extensive waterways network, which runs a total of 1,500 kilometers, was once a source of pride for the former capital (as Saigon) of South Vietnam. The waterways not only linked the city with the Mekong Delta and other surrounding provinces, but also play an important role in servicing the city's sewage and drainage infrastructure. But as the city's population grew, the rivers and canals of Ho Chi Minh City went through rapid degradation. Choked with refuse and sometimes even clogged with shanties in their shallower portions, the city's waterways either turned gray or black and emitted overwhelming fetid odors. They also shrank, no longer flowed with ease and became prone to overflowing.

Tau Hu canal, for instance, used to measure 50 meters wide and 11 meters deep, and was a popular avenue for vessels that carried some 350,000 tonnes of cargo a year. Now it is only about 20 meters wide and two meters deep. In District 8, meanwhile, parts of the once expansive waterway system have been "reclaimed" by some companies allowed to set up shop in the area. By filling the portion of canal near their factories with waste and soil, Cho Lon Plastics company has "reclaimed" 1,277 square meters, Tuan Nha Garments 445 square meters, and Thanh Loi Enterprise 221 square meters.

Not surprisingly, some areas of the city have become flood-prone even during the dry season. City authorities have tried to remedy the situation by repairing and upgrading some of the drainage systems, as well as building new ones. They also dredged a few of the major canals. But the problem of flooding persisted while the remaining waterways continued to deteriorate.

Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe canal was considered the worst of the lot. Still, when the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee decided to implement a US$700 million "clean the waterways" program two years ago, it chose to Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe as the pilot project, just to prove perhaps that the task was not impossible. Some $116.6 million was spent cleaning up the canal, improving infrastructure around it and repairing drainage and water treatment systems. Today, the canal is flowing once more, the stink is gone and the area alongside the waterway has been transformed into a greenbelt.

Officials like to say that the 68,000 people who used to live along the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe canal are now rid of a squalid, shantytown lifestyle. Indeed, thousands have been relocated to better homes and those who are still living near the waterway now have front doors that open to a new street. One of the components of the waterways cleanup program in this city actually covers the relocation of squatters living in targeted waterway areas. According to the plan laid out in 2000, seven new residential areas would be built to accommodate 1,444 apartments and 635 housing foundations established to help in the resettlement of eligible families.

So far, the city's authorities are pleased with what has been accomplished with the Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe canal. They know, however, that the battle to clean up Ho Chi Minh City's waterways network still has a very long way to go. Among their priorities these days is how to keep factories from flushing their wastes into the waterways and residents from throwing refuse into the rivers and canals. Public works personnel say an average of 450 tonnes of trash is dumped daily into the 70km inner-city stretch of the canal system alone.

Authorities are also trying to keep people from squatting on or near the waterways. Nguyen Van Vang of the city's Department of Public Works confesses, "It's seems like a game of hide and seek. We have just cleared some slums there, and they appear again at other places beside other waterways."

In truth, there has been much grumbling among those forced to relocate. Nguyen Van Mot, for example, may have been able to get an apartment for his family, but his grumpy countenance makes it is clear that he would have preferred to stay put in his waterway home. Former waterway squatter Huynh Thi Kim was also allocated a fifth-floor apartment, but the 45-year-old street vendor found the location of her new home too inconvenient. She thus sold the apartment and now rents a small house near her place of work. Some city personnel admit that it may not be long until she decides to save rent money and just turn to squatting once more, as others have already done.

Observers say other key issues have yet to be adequately addressed, such as the illegal reclamation being done by factories. They also say people's trash disposal habits remain dismal, as does the city's waste management system.

(Inter Press Service) ©2001 Asia Times Online Co., Ltd.   For full article click here

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