Many families living on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City have struggled with a lack of clean water for dozens of years, inspiring one high-ranking city official to demand results or resignations from district and water department leaders.
During a tempestuous meeting on Friday, Nguyen Huu Tin, vice chairman of the city People’s Committee, dismissed claims that a hundred percent of the city's suburbs have clean water access.
“I don’t trust that estimation,” Tin said, before citing his recent visit to families living in District 12 and Hoc Mon.
“I visited five families and three of them were using polluted water,” he said.
“You said the water was hygienic, but not a single official visiting the site dared to check the water. I did and I cannot say that it’s hygienic because it was sour and stinky.”
Many families living near city center, such as Bui Van Huong of Binh Thanh District claimed to suffer a similar plight while speaking with Thanh Nien.
Huong said his family has had to buy bottled water for dozens of years.
The price has ranged from VND50,000 to 75,000 (US$2.35-3.52) a cubic meter, which is more than ten times the cost of city tap water.
“I dug a well but could not use the water even for cooking due to its high alum content," he said.
More than 100 families at the apartment building at 234 Phan Van Tri Street in the same district said they've also lacked clean water access for at least 17 years.
Nga, who lives on the second floor of the building, said the area used to be a cemetery which saturated the ground with high concentrations of alum, which turns white shirts yellow after several washes.
She has to carry bottles of tap water, collected elsewhere, up to her apartment to cook, wash clothes and bathe her children.
You said the water was hygienic, but not a single official visiting the site dared to check the water. I did and I cannot say that it’s hygienic because it was sour and stinky.” -- Nguyen Huu Tin, vice chairman of Ho Chi Minh City, speaking to district leaders at a meeting on the city's water quality
She said those on the seventh floor also have to fetch water every day, and it is really hard work to them as there’s no elevators.
Nguyen Huu Hoai Phu, vice chairman of Cu Chi District, said more than 110,000 households lack access to water, while others survive on groundwater, which can't be very clean given the many cemeteries and farms in the area.
Nguyen Van Truong, vice chairman of Binh Chanh District, said only around 41 percent of their nearly 140,000 households have access to clean water.
During the Friday meeting, Tin said that many district leaders are blissfully ignorant of the water supply situation do not care to investigate it.
During his recent visit, the district leaders couldn't tell him which areas had access to clean water and which did not.
“Some even asked why I did hadn't informed them that I would visit,” he said.
“How can that kind of management offer us any solutions? We need to know what kind of water people are using to know what we should do to help them.”
Official figures at the meeting indicate that 320,000 households in the city lack access to clean water.
Nguyen Thanh Chung, director of the municipal Transport Department, which is in charge of organizing water supply works, said it would take until 2025 and around VND70 trillion (nearly $3.3 billion) for Saigon Water Corporation (Sawaco) to bring clean water to every part of the city.
Chung said if the company doesn't speed up its efforts, it will run out of money.
Tin called clean water an urgent, basic need for the city's residents. He criticized the transport department, the water company and district leaders for poor cooperation and a lack of good will in meeting that demand.
He gave Chung and other district leaders two months to evaluate the water needs of every family in the city.
He also ordered the department to draft a detailed plan to bring clean water to those in need, starting next year.
He said that in areas where Sawaco's pipes don't reach, there must be water tanks.
“If you cannot complete these tasks, you should resign,” Tin told officials at the meeting.
“You should not be dragging around. You should do something now to make changes.”