Japanese team helps with Ha Long Bay clean up

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Nguyen Van Cai, 67, from a fishing village on Ha Long Bay, uses a wool rag to wash dishes as it saves him water.

A Japanese expert is using a lesson he learnt in his primary school to help people in Vietnam's Ha Long Bay adopt environmentally friendly practices like using wool for dishwashing.

Wool uses less dishwashing liquid than any other material as it holds the liquid better, and it uses less water even as it cleans dishes faster, says Makoto Fujita, deputy director of the JICA Local Project, a part of the Ha Long Bay Environment Protection Project sponsored by JICA the Japanese International Cooperation Agency.

Fujita learned the lesson in the 1970s, when many Japanese people did not have as many ideas about the environment as they do now, he told Lao Dong.

He has been busy traveling around Cuu Van fishing village on the bay, persuading people to use wool rags.

"We first planned to promote wool rag in two villages. Then people told each other and another two villages in the bay asked us to provide them with wool rags or teach them to knit those.

"So we doubled our goal."

Nguyen Van Cai, a 67-year-old resident of Cuu Van village, is one of many who have shifted to the method as it saves water.

"Water here is much more precious and many times more expensive than that on land."

He said 200 liters of water costs VND18,000 (US$0.86), compared to between VND1,000 and VND18,000 for a cubic meter (1,000 liters) of tap water provided on the mainland, depending on the economic area.

"The less water used, the less money spent, and we can also reduce wastewater discharged into the bay," Cai said.

He said everyone in the village is using a wool rag. "The JICA people told us that we are living on a world wonder, so we need to help protect it."

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JICA members have also opened classes with the help of local teachers to instruct locals in sorting their garbage and recycle as much as possible, and to measure the transparency of sea water using the secchi disk. The disk is attached to a pole or line and lowered slowly down in the water. The depth at which the pattern on the disk is no longer visible is taken as a measure of the transparency of the water.

They have popularized many environmental notions and habits across the villages, where most adults are illiterate.

But the project experts are not so optimistic that their efforts alone can save the bay.

They said the project could help create generations who are more environmentally friendly, but it might be too late as the bay is already heavily polluted.

More than 200 families living on the bay have been dumping waste directly into it for a long time, and 80 percent of around 520 tourism boats on the bay, including 200 that sail overnight, are dumping waste into the bay.

Some transport boats steathily discharge their waste into the bay as well.

A recent report by the Ha Long Bay management board has revealed that near-shore waters in several areas showed increased opaqueness and oil, local media reported early September.

Yoichi Iwai, chief consultant for the JICA project, said construction on the bay coast has thickened the sediment at the bay bottom, killing algae and plankton, and thus fish, chasing away seabirds which could find no food.

He said Vietnam's management officials need to make a choice between encroaching the bay for urban development and maintaining the protection belt around the bay to develop its ecosystem.

The JICA project does not only aim to change local residents' habits, it has another part which will target management officials' policies.

Surveys found the bay's water is still cleaner than that at Osaka Bay, but figures are getting worse and Vietnamese officials should not lose more control over it, the Japanese experts said in the report.

They have proposed to local governments that floating toilets are commissioned for use in the bay.

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