Only 39% of the population of Vietnam has access to safe water. The surface water of rivers is often polluted by industrial plants and waste from local villages. The geography of Vietnam also contributes to the problem because the flatness makes the country very susceptible to typhoons, storms, floods, and droughts. These natural disasters allow pollution and waterborne diseases to spread quickly. Natural pollution and industrial waste in the water are only part of the problem. The Vietnamese often dispose of their waste by throwing it into rivers, canals, or ponds. They collect water from these sources to do laundry, wash dishes, and bathe, and then they throw the soapy water back into the water source. Needless to say water sources that the Vietnamese use for drinking water and for their livelihoods as farmers and fishers are very contaminated and unsafe.
Arsenic has been leeching into Vietnamese wells as people use up the water in their own aquifers and contaminated water flows in to replace it. The World Health Organization recommends an arsenic level no higher than 10 µg per liter. Some regions of Vietnam have more than 10 to 300 times this level, especially regions surrounding the capital where agriculture leads to high water demands. Although most people know that there is arsenic in the water, they continue to use it because they don’t have any other choice. Arsenic poisoning can lead to a number of problems including cancer.
Nearly 80% of the diseases in Vietnam are caused by polluted water. There are many cases of cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and malaria each year. Approximately 6 million Vietnamese contracted a major waterborne disease in the past year. People in rural areas have very little ability to dispose of human and animal waste. When there was a bird flu outbreak in 2004, they threw the dead poultry into canals and rivers.
Last April, tons of fish washed up on the shore of coastal communities such as Ha Tinh and Quang Tri. It began with farmed fish dying in great numbers, and then wild fish, including rare deep sea species, began washing up on the beaches. This was especially worrying sense seafood is one of the main exports of Vietnam and the deaths lead to decreased tourism and economic troubles for the country. It turned out that toxic discharges from a Taiwanese owned steel plant were responsible for the fish deaths. The company pledged $500 million to clean up the environment and compensate affected people.
People have been working on ways to filter the water, because the government only filters water that comes from a town aquifer. Many villages are left on their own. One of the best methods to filter the water is a sand filter because the iron and manganese in the sand filters out the arsenic and the finer particles of sand help to pull out some of the other pollutants. It isn’t perfect, but often the arsenic levels are with in World Health Organization standards and the water is drinkable.