Water Governance and Pollution Control in Peri-Urban Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: The Challenges Facing Farmers and Opportunities for Change
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Encompassing both urban and rural processes, the peri-urban interface (PUI) provides a unique and challenging arena for environmental management. As the urban core expands, the PUI industrializes and urbanizes, undergoing rapid social, economic, and environmental changes. One of the results of this transformation is often an increase in pollutants and environmental degradation. In the twenty years since the initiation of its reforms towards a more market-oriented economy, Vietnam has seen significant growth, much of this occurring within the industrial sector in and around urban hubs such as Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Rapid urbanization and industrialization has occurred with limited control, and a trend has emerged where industrial activity has moved out of the urban core and into the PUI. Despite ongoing efforts, the government of Vietnam, as in other Asian countries, is unable to fully regulate firms illegally releasing untreated and often highly polluted wastewater. The result is that farmers in HCMC’s PUI must now contend with lower crop yields or even failures – and food safety concerns due to an influx of pollutants in irrigation waters. Combining a rights-based approach and a good governance approach, this research describes the constraints on both farmers and government officials that prevent a resolution of farmers’ pollution problems. These constraints are argued to stem from systemic water governance issues in Ho Chi Minh City and Vietnam. They include poor communication between farmers and government officials, limited farmer participation in water management, a lack of integration between government agencies, little government accountability and transparency, and water management priorities that favour economic growth over environmental health. It is argued that strengthening farmers’ water rights could address these issues. However using a rights based approach would first require addressing gender inequities in community affairs, institutional changes to ensure the recognition of farmers’ rights in practice, compensating those harmed by pollution, and educating farmers on the legal system and the water rights it provides. In addition to addressing a general lack of literature on water governance in Vietnam, this research has implications for literature regarding peri-urban environmental management, good water governance, and the rights based approach. This research suggests that the challenges present in the PUI exacerbate and thus illuminate poor water governance practices that extend beyond the local scale. It also suggests that water rights be used as a possible platform to achieve good water governance. Lastly, it explores the potential challenges of implementing a rights based approach.