Conflict of management worsens river pollution

Even after ten years of relentless pleading with local authorities to save the Dong Nai River from progressive pollution, inhabitants living along this river belt find that the situation has deteriorated even further, seemingly due to conflicting management policies.

Waste dumped from boats pollutes the Dong Nai River (Photo: SGGP)

The Dong Nai River runs from the Central Highland region through twelve provinces of the southeastern region including Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai and Binh Duong Province. 

Approximately one million cubic meters of wastewater continues to sluice into the second largest river in the southern region every day. Over 70 industrial zones have no wastewater treatment systems and continue to operate without one.

Associate Professor and Doctor Nguyen Ky Phung from the southern Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment said that the water quality of the Dong Nai River would continue to worsen by the end of the year.

The worst polluted are Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai and Binh Duong provinces as they are located at the lower sections of the river.

According to Bui Cach Tuyen, deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, industrial zones (IZ) causing pollution are clearly  listed but relevant authorities take no initiative in asking businesses here to build wastewater treatment systems. Even if they take action against the defaulters, they cannot halt operations at the IZs as the environment law is full of loopholes. As a result, when authorities issue fines, businesses continue to operate as before.

Conflict of management

Dealing with the contamination and pollution of the Dong Nai River has therefore proved to be an uphill and complicated task as management of the river is distributed amongst various departments and ministries.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is responsible for the water quality of rivers and canals. However, management of wastewater is under the jurisdiction of several other ministries and departments.

For instance, the Ministry of Planning and Investment can issue licenses for business and infrastructure projects without considering environmental issues. As a result, several IZs are not environment friendly, have no wastewater treatment systems and continue to remain the main culprits behind the river pollution.

The Ministry of Health issues licenses to hospitals and medical clinics but thousands of facilities run without considering wastewater recycling. Millions of cubic meters of untreated hospital wastewater is discharged and flows into rivers.
The Ministry of Construction is responsible for the management of rubbish dumps. However, only 10 percent of the dumps follow environmental regulations. The remainder release wastewater into surrounding areas.

The Ministry of Transport manages waterway vehicles but the pollution caused by fuel oil and garbage from boats has always been higher than permitted limits. Any incidents of oil leaks have also not been dealt with so as to protect marine life.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has also contributed to decreasing the water quality by issuing licenses for seafood farming which do not meet with environmental safety standards.

Last but not least, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has issued licenses to several hydropower projects which have been instrumental in reducing and polluting both the quality and quantity of the river water.

By Ai Van – Translated by Hai Mien

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