Institutional situation and proposals for improving drought management for Red River delta, Vietnam

Institutional situation and proposals for improving drought management for Red River delta, Vietnam

Institutional situation and proposals for improving drought management for Red River delta, Vietnam

17:23 - 16/03/2018

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Red River system plays a vital role in ensuring security of water, food and energy not only for the region in particular and Vietnam in general. Although, the great achievements of controlling flood has been gained during the last decades, droughts is likely to be the major threat for the sustainable development of the region in both


Institutional situation and proposals for improving drought management for Red River delta, Vietnam


Nguyen Xuan Lam


Institute for Water and Environment


Presented at:


International Conference on the Mekong, Salween and Red Rivers:


Sharing Knowledge and Perspectives Across Borders


Faculty of  Political Science, Chulalongkorn University,


12th November 2016




The Red River System is the second largest system after the Mekong in Vietnam. Downstream it forms the Red River Delta with 11 provinces and Ha Noi capital at the heart. The region produces about 6.7 M ton of rice every year, playing as the key center of politics and socio-economy and as strategic positions for connecting the inland to the world through East Sea. During recent years, drought has occurred with higher intensity and frequency year by year. However, unfortunately, the rapid socio-economic development along with significant changes of water resources uses among sectors, especially agriculture, and hydropower, have caused and worsened many water conflicts. Meanwhile, the water governance at the region, though gaining many evolutions recently, it has exposed many pending issues that has been indicated as causes of reactiveness and ineffectiveness in drought response. This paper summarizes research results of reviewing the present situation in region together with relevant policies of water governance issued recently. Based on that, pending issues and gaps have been indicated and analyzed before proposing solutions of strengthening water institution to push forward a proactive drought management. Specific actions are also detailed, including an establishment of an Advisory Board for Government and organizational model for local drought management to make sure a relevant supplement for current policy and comprehensive solution from national to commune.




Key word: drought, water conflict, food and energy security, Red River Vietnam.


  1. Introduction


Figure 1. Location of Red River delta


Red-River Basin (RRB) is the second largest basin in Vietnam (second to Mekong river basin), locating in the ranges of 100o06’-106o35' East longitude and 20o00’-25o 27’ North latitude. The system originates from Van Nam, China territory, run about 1100 km before pours to East Sea at 9 river mouths in Red-River Delta (RRD) in Vietnam. The total area of basin is 149,760 km2, of which, Chinese part accounts for 50 %, Vietnam 49.3 % and a small part of Lao 0.7 %. Within Vietnamese territory, the basin consists of 25 provinces/cities, with a population of 32 M person in 2014, 1.8 M ha of agricultural land. In which, RRD is the second largest rice granary, producing about an annual yield of 6.7 M ton and Hanoi capital stays at the heart of the region (Figure).


During the past decade, a reduction and change of low-flow patterns have been observed in the Delta, most probably caused by Climate Change, the upstream hydro-power development (Châu, 2010), the changed flow diversion at Duong-Hong confluence (Chau, 2010), the degraded river-bed that led the decreased water-head, sea-level rise (Institute for Water Resources Planning, 2012), other activities such as uncontrolled sand mining and unsuitable reservoir operation. Those lead to strong challenges related to meeting the high seasonal water demand for rice irrigation and water supply for domestic and industrial uses, especially for the Winter-Spring rice (650 000 ha).


Since 1998, the water level (WL) at Ha Noi has decreased at an astonishing speed. Several extreme drought events can be recognized as 1998-1999, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 (Institute for Water and Environment, 2014). In 2010, due to the 2009-year rainy season ended soon, the rainfall was low, and the high temperature lasted long, the base flow significantly decreased, and the inflows to upstream hydropower reservoirs was very small, therefore, after releasing the agricultural water of the transplanting period (Figure 3) and to keeping the storage for the coming Jun-Aug hot period, the upstream reservoirs nearly stopped operation. As a result, WL at Ha Noi dropped to a historical value of 0.1 m, at which, walking across the river was possible (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Red river dried up in Feb 2010      &      gricultural water releases of Hoa Binh reservoir                                            


Accordingly, the saline intrusion occurred on the large scale of the coastal region (Figure 4). And even protected by the dike system, the salt water greatly reduced the operational time of the water intakes. Low WL and salt water were really causes of a crisis in taking water for the crops on the whole delta.


To cope with that, many measures were applied, from

Figure 4. Saline intrusion in 2010



media enhanced for raising the public awareness, using a high number of temporary pumps at any time and any places, and to utilizing any storage structures possible, etc. Therefore, the cost could be up to thousands billion VND. The exact number is unknown, however, of which, a large part are paid by the central budget subsidies for water fee exemption that has risen significantly, about 5 times from 660 bill VND in 2008 to 2,993 bill VND.


One of the main reasons that was indicated by the Directorate of Water Resources under MARD is the lacking of an institutional framework for drought management, which should focus more on resolving the overlapping and conflicting of water governance, especially in planning, construction, response and recovery that currently are involved many Ministries and Agencies. This limit is really a big obstacle for achieving comprehensive solutions to transform the drought management from passive to proactive. This paper is aimed to summarize the results of reviewing the current situation, and indicating the causes of drought and propose the institutional initiatives to improve the drought management for the region.



  1. Methodology


The study will focus on reviewing similar papers on the same topics/issues; conducting surveys for data collection and in-depth data analysis about drought, current institution for water management in overall and for drought management in particular; and proposal of improved institution for drought management pushing forward the risk management and integrated water river management. The research was conducted largely based on the desk review for 9 months, and several field surveys to the localities in the region such as Hoa Binh, Vinh Phuc for the mountainous and highland area, Ha Noi and Bac Ninh for the delta area, and Nam Dinh, Thai Binh and Ninh Binh for the coastal area.


III. Results and discussion


Characteristic of Red River basin.


The Red-River basin (RRB) is the second largest basin in Vietnam (after Mekong river basin). As an international basin, the total area of the basin is 149,760 km2, of which, the Chinese part accounts for 50 %, Vietnam 49.3 % and a small part of Lao 0.7 % (Tran X. T., 2012). Within the Vietnamese territory, the basin consists of 25 provinces/cities, with a population of 32 Million person in 2014, 1.8 Million ha of agricultural land (Figure 5).


The climate in Vietnam part is characterized of monsoon conditions, with the annual temperature spatially varies from 14 to 24 oC, humidity 80 ÷ 87 %, wind speed 0.8 ÷ 4 m/s, evaporation (Piche measurement) 500 mm ÷ 1000 mm. As for rainfall, in Chinese part, the annual rainfall varies from 600 to 3000 mm, coming down to Vietnamese part, it ranges 1.100 ÷ 5.000 mm. By calculation, total annual rainfall resources is 238.69 km3 and Vietnamese amount makes up to 57.82 % (Tran, Hoang, Tran, Tran, & Nguyen, 2012). However, due to the fact of highly uneven rainfall distribution within a year, flood season usually occurring in the period of May – Oct, making up to 70 ÷ 87 % of total annual flow volume (121.8 km3), the remainder falls in the dry season of Nov-April, and the minimum consecutive-three-month period is only 8 % that usually occurs in Jan – March or Feb- April.




Figure 5. Red river basin with major reservoirs of


The Red River Delta (RRD) consists of 11 provinces, in which, Ha Noi capital is located at the heart of the region. The region has a high population of 20.8 Million in 2015 (General Department of Statistics , 2015); as the center of politic, economy, culture and science-technology with contribution of 24.7 % of national GDP; as the second largest rice production area with total yield of 6.7 M ton; the entrance from the inland to the world through the East Sea, and the direct bridge between 2 dynamic developing regions of South East Asia and North East Asia.


Vietnam and RRD in particular possess a rapid developing economy with high energy demand. With the advantages of terrain, high river network density and redundant rainfall, the Red River System (RRS) has a hydropower potential of 21000 MW, making up 60 % of the nation. Until 2015, with 46.22 % of hydropower contribution to the national grid (Table 2), RSS supplied about 8005 MW, accounting for more than half. RRS hydropower has a key role in national energy security, covering more than 50 % of the national hydropower production especially in drought years. The following figure shows the national energy sources with hydropower as the largest part. 

Table 1. Contribution of energy sources in total national supply of 2015 (Electricity of Viet Nam Corporation , 2015).


 Energy sources








Coal fired power



Gas fire power



Winpower and other






Figure 6. Red river exposed bottom in 2010 at Ha Noi



4. However, there have been 9 drought events with a recent increasing frequency and intensity since 1998. Of which, the event of 2009-2010 has been considered most serve when the minimum dry-season water level of Ha Noi station went down to the historical-100-year value of 0.001 m, the river bottomed up, deep salt-water intrusion, agriculture and other sectors affected, especially navigation was completely shut down.


Causes of drought for Red River Delta.


Through data collection, analysis combined with literature review, the following causes are likely to be the main factors:


  • Climate Change (CC) and Sea Level Rising (SLR): The calculation based on CC & SLR published by Vietnam government indicate due to changes of rainfall and temperature, the average flow will decrease in both dry and flood season by 6.7 ÷ 11.8 % and 8.1 ÷ 13.24 % respectively. The changes of extreme-event frequency and intensity such as drought is qualitatively expected to be increased, however, the quantification has been unknown (Institute for Water Resources Planning, 2012).


  • Information of upstream activities in Chinese part is limited: Currently, China has built tens of hydropower reservoirs and barrages, however, the details about their designs and operation is restricted. The operation of those works has changed the hydrological pattern in Vietnam, the dry season usually comes earlier, and during the hottest and driest period, there has been the signs of interruption in operation (Institute for Water and Environment, 2014).


  • Water demands is increased significantly by the changes of river morphologies: In RRD, agriculture has been a most water user in RRD compared to the others with 60 – 70 % of total water demand with two main rice seasons as Spring (Nov – June) and Summer (June –Nov), in which the former stays in the dry season and need higher water demands, especially in the time of transplanting period (Figure 7). During these times, water are mostly carried to the users by a vast irrigation system through its headworks locating on the main streams, water is not only for agriculture but also for the others. Before 2003, when the river had not been highly eroded, in order to have the water level of threshold 2.2 m, it needs about 860 m3/s but now 1,450 m3/s or even more. Since then, 3 main reservoirs as Hoa Binh, Thac Ba and Tuyen Quang had to focus their releases on about 15 days of transplanting period of spring rice season to raise enough water level for the intakes operation, however statistics of 2010-2014 shows that the release has doubled whereas spring cropping area is still the same (Table 1).


Table 1. Spring releases and cropping areas over years in RRD (Directorate for Water Resources, MARD , 2015)




release (109





area (ha)






3 reservoirs





3 reservoirs











Son La in














Figure 7. Water demand over the year of RRD

Role of RRB reservoir system in national energy security and water conflicts: Currently, RRB system provides about 8008 MW as 24 % of total power supply. During the drought year, it does not only ensure the demand of the North but also generated power being transmitted to the Centre and the South where the sources are more limited. Besides, the pattern of national electricity consumption indicates that the period of May-July is usually the time with highest demand (Figure 8), as can be naturally explained by this is the hottest during the year, so that reservoirs will try to save the water storage from the end of flood season (Oct) through the dry season time of Nov to April when the demand is low because of the winter. However, this saving time coincides with the transplanting period of spring-rice season. Therefore, during the event of 2009 -2010, after Spring release, the reservoirs nearly shut down and consequently significant impacts as indicated above. Furthermore, the variation of electricity demand within a day (Figure 9) that create an interruption of river flow also causes more consequences to the environment and other users downstream (Figure , Error! Reference source not found.)


Figure 8.  Percentages of national electricity

Figure 9. Rates of electricity consumption within a

consumptions by months (Hoang, 2015)

day (Electricity planning period 2010-2020 and


vision to 2030, 2011)







In brief, RRB plays a key role in a sustainable development of Vietnam in terms of the triangle among water, energy and food security. The impacts of drought during the past years are significant and will be more intensified during the coming year. The nexus of them shows us a holistic way to minimize those impacts. However, due to those phenomenon have just happened, the detailed studies about them are currently poor. Therefore, before coming up with any actions, we need studies about enriching the analysis of “what and how are causes of drought and water conflicts?” and in what way, the current institution deals with these crisis. Based on that, policies might be developed that harmonized the development and operation of major reservoirs, resolve the conflicts between hydropower and downstream water supply and set the basis for real-time operation in RRB.


Critique on current policies


On the national scale, many efforts have been made to revolutionize the current water management. Water governance duty has been assigned to the responsibility of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE). Moreover, many Ministries and Agencies have set up the specific functionalities relevant to managing water, in which, MONRE is the focal point of water administration. In addition, after Water Law 2012 was enacted by Assembly, there have been 128 water-related legal documents issued, of which, 92 still effective, creating important legal basis for activities. MONRE minister has issued 01 Directive, 09 Circular and 04 Decisions. At the local levels, 55/63 provinces have issued 100 legal documents specifically stipulating on survey, extraction, usage and effluent to the water body and local regulation of water resources1. 

Through visits to RRD provinces, it shows that the provincial institutions related to drought are:

  • Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DONRE) is responsible for water governance and environment; (ii) Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) for agriculture, salt, aqua production, irrigation and drainage, flood and inundation response, rural


  • Vietnam Government, Overview on enforcement of Water Law 1998, assessment and recommendations


7 domestic water and environment ; (iii) Department of Industry and Trade (DOIT) is for renewable energy; (iv) Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is for developing and guiding on the local water standards; and (v) Department of Construction is for governing on water supply, water drainage, water treatment for industry, urban, and town.


It can be said that currently water resources management has established many legal documents such as Water Law, Dyke Law, Disaster Law, etc., and under as Decree, Circular, Decision, Mandate, etc., which detailing about the laws and stipulating the functionality, authority, responsibility, and organizational structures of relevant Ministries on protection and extraction of water resources. Those documents have touched almost every water aspect, however, many pending, overlapping, colliding and conflicting issues have been exposed, specifically about responsibilities and authorities (functionalities, duties) relating to one subject of water, which reducing and limiting effectiveness and efficiency of the governing practices of those organizations. These issues (Figure 10) have been indicated as one of the main causes of the reactiveness and short-vision in the drought management activities2.


Figure 10. Current institutions water governance on national scale and RRB in particular (adapted from (Dao, 2015)


  • Vietnam Water Partnership, 2015. Food and water security


8 In addition, concerning drought as one of disasters that defined by Disaster Law 2014, the management activities currently is assigned to National Steering Committee of Natural Disaster Prevention and Control (NSCNDPC). According to this law, the committee is organized as follows: (i) Minister of MARD as chairman; (ii) Vice Minister of MARD as standing vice chairman;


  • Vice Chief of Government Office as vice chairman; (iv) Standing Vice Chairman of National Committee of Search and Rescue as vice chairman; (v) members as leaders from Ministries and Agencies under Government: MARD, MONRE, Ministry of Defense; Ministry of Security, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Education, etc., in which, MARD is assigned as standing organization of the committee. MARD established a specialized unit acting as standing office with stamp, fund and account at National Treasury to facilitate its activities3.


With such an organization, it is likely to only enable “incident management” rather than “risk management” that consists of Preparedness and Mitigation; Forecasting and Early Warning4. As a result, it shortens the vision of integrated water management and weakens the capacities of resolving the conflicts among sectors and localities.


In conclusion, in order to strengthen the institution of disaster management and drought management in particular and for such a large and multi-province river basin as RRB, it is necessary to establish an Independent Advisory Board with duties at advising for Government and Ministries to enable the enforcement of Article 64 of Water Law, including: (1) management of water planning on river basin scale; (2) coordination of water management activities; (2) Supporting resettlement of water conflicts. In which, as for drought, it will support NSCNDPC in resolving water conflicts in short-term, and in long-term assist Government’s development activities with reduced risks and high sustainability.


Proposed Actions


The government will be responsible for establishing the Advisory Board that is comprised of long-experience and leading experts in fields of IWRM, institutions, natural resources and environment, hydropower, agriculture, transportation, construction. The arrangement will be conducted in close consultation with Ministries, Agencies, Social Organization, etc. After that, under the Board, 4 working units should be formed:


  • Working unit on planning and implementation of protection and development plan of river basin water resource;


  • Vietnam government, 2014. Decree 66 Detailing and guiding on several articles of disaster law 2013


  • Wilhite, J., & Knutso, 2000. Planning for drought moving from crisis to risk management, American water resources assocication.




  • Working unit on enforcing rights for coordination and monitoring in activities at Article 16 of Water Law 12


  • Working unit on enforcing rights for regulation and allocation of water in river basin


  • Working unit on creating the dialogue among stakeholders in river basin on IWRM


Furthermore, the duties of groups need to be complied with Article 6, 23, 72 of Water Law 12. Besides, at the province with high risk of drought, it is necessary to establish the Provincial Steering Panel for Drought Prevention and Control (PSPDPC) with the following structure:




Provincial Steering Panel for Drought Prevention and


Control (standing office as DARD)




Departments and agencies: DARD,


District Steering Panel for Drought

DONRE, Department of Investment,


Prevention and Control











Irrigation Management




Commune Steering Panel





for Drought Prevention





and Control






directing/ordering relation




coordinating/collaborating relation














Figure 11. Organizational Structure of Provincial Steering Panel for Drought Prevention and Control


  1. Conclusion & Recommendation


Red River system plays a vital role in ensuring security of water, food and energy not only for the region in particular and Vietnam in general. Although, the great achievements of controlling flood has been gained during the last decades, droughts is likely to be the major threat for the sustainable development of the region in both current time and future. The research has indicated that causes of drought is not only attributed to physical sides but also institutional sides. Water conflicts and lacking of collaboration and coordination among graphical parts and water-users are expected to exacerbate the drought impacts that are induced more by Climate Change with a likely increase of extreme event. The research also gave a picture of water governance with many pending, overlapping and conflicting issues. Based on that, a proposal of establishing Independent Advisory Board with a duty of advising Government on the management and planning of development activities has been made and other necessary activities. However, impacts of Climate Change and


10. social-economic development in the future has been unknown, therefore, the related quantitative researches with higher reliability for guiding long-term preparedness and response activities are highly necessary.




Châu, N. L. (2010). Reviewing impacts of reservoir system operation on Da and Lo rivers during dry season and proposing solutions.


Chau, V. H. (2010). Impacts of upstream operation works and drought on downstream of Red river system.


Dao, T. T. (2015). Water governance in Vietnam. Vetnam Water Patnership and ADB, (pp. 51-59). Ha Noi.


Directorate for Water Resources, MARD . (2015).


Electricity of Viet Nam Corporation . (2015). Viet Nam electricity annual report. Ha Noi.


(2011). Electricity planning period 2010-2020 and vision to 2030. Ha Noi.


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Hoang, M. T. (2015). Developing up operation rule curve for Red River Reservor system.


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Vietnam Government. (2011). Overview on enforcement of Water Law 1998, assessment and recommendations.


Vietnam government. (2014). Decree 66 Detailing and guiding on several articles of disaster law 2013.


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Wilhite, D. A., J. , M. H., & Knutso, C. (2000, Aug). Planning for drought moving from crisis to risk management. American water resources assocication, 36(4), 697-710,.