25 August 20 NDO - In the context of climate change and economic restructuring, irrigation work should be innovated fundamentally and sustainably to make the most of the potential and advantages of the irrigation system, meeting requirements on ensuring national water source security, protecting agricultural production activities, and serving people's welfare.

Synchronous development of irrigation system

In 1945, once the country gained independence, the Government issued decrees on dyke protection to prevent flooding, ensure the protection and management of irrigation canal systems and the expansion of irrigation areas. They were seen as leading measures to protect and develop agricultural production. Over the past 75 years, the country has developed a relatively complete irrigation system, gradually meeting the requirements of water supply and drainage for agricultural production, people's livelihoods and economic sectors as well as contributing to preventing and reducing natural disasters. However, the irrigation infrastructure has been built in many stages, including many works in the 1970s, and funds for regular maintenance and repair have been lacking. As a result, the number of deteriorated irrigation projects has increased every year; meanwhile, works managed by local people have rarely been repaired.

Major inter-regional irrigation projects have been invested in and mainly served rice production and people's welfare; however, water supply works for upland crops and aquaculture have not received adequate attention. In addition, the development of irrigation infrastructure is still largely dependent on the state budget. Some irrigation systems are not synchronised, and most inner field canals have not been completed. Inefficient rural domestic water supply projects still account for a large proportion of the total.

Meanwhile, the consequences of climate change, including rains, floods, waterlogging, drought and saltwater intrusion, have become more and more serious, greatly affecting production and people's lives. Nearly 70% of the population is at risk of being affected by natural disasters and water-related pollution. For example, in 2019, a serious drought occurred in the South-Central Coastal region. At the same time, flooding caused severe losses in the Central Highland and North Central regions. In 2020, unusual developments of drought, water shortage, and saltwater intrusion happened in the Mekong River Delta, Red River, South Central and Central Highland provinces.

In addition, the country's socio-economic development, urbanisation and industrialisation activities have put great pressure on irrigation works, causing a reduction in water resources, land subsidence, encroachment upon space for water drainage as well as riverbank and coastal erosion. The pollution of water sources in canals, rivers and lakes in big cities and concentrated population areas is very serious. In particular, plans to build hydropower reservoirs and water intake projects as well as inter-river water transfer in the upstream of several rivers in other nations are expected to cause serious consequences in the lowlands in Vietnam, particularly the Mekong and Red River Delta regions. The amount of alluvium in the Mekong River Delta region is estimated to fall by 97% by 2040, causing significant economic losses in agricultural production and people's livelihoods.

Ensuring water resource security

With the goal of developing irrigation in a modern and flexible manner, ensuring water supply for people and economic sectors, contributing to sustainable socio-economic development and ensuring national water resources security as well as proactively preventing, controlling and minimising the damage caused by natural disasters, responding to the most unfavorable cases, adapting to climate change and developing upper river basins, the irrigation sector should focus on implementing the contents of the Law on Irrigation and the Vietnam Irrigation Strategy for the period up to 2030, with a vision to 2045.

Accordingly, it is essential to perfect mechanisms and policies, while strengthening the enforcement of irrigation law. Measures should be taken to raise public awareness of irrigation activities and enforcement of law. The supplementing and completion of policies and laws on irrigation should ensure synchronisation, consistency, feasibility and transparency. It is crucial to perfect the system of irrigation management from central to local level,towards synchronisation, consistency, professionalism, effective and efficient operation, and a clear definition of the function of state management and exploitation management. The streamlining of irrigation units and grassroots organisations will be enhanced towards the provision of diverse services, financial autonomy and promotion of the subjective role of users of irrigation products and services. The relevant agencies should also focus on training and improving capacity and attracting high-quality human resources to join irrigation activities; and consulting experts specialised in irrigation work in the central and local levels.

Development visions and scenarios must be developed on the basis of consideration of the impacts of climate change, developments in the upstreams of international river basins, internal developments in the planning area, the settlement of extreme phenomena such as droughts, water shortages, saltwater intrusion, flooding, inundation, waterlogging, pollution and water degradation. The authorities should formulate a centralised and key plan for irrigation infrastructure development investment in a synchronous and modern manner. Accordingly, it is necessary to invest in major irrigation projects; inter-provincial, inter-regional, inter-basin water transfer works, salt-fresh control projects; rural domestic water supply works; and the repair and upgrade of current works to meet the demand for socio-economic development and the projects associated with the programmes of restructuring the agricultural economy, preventing and mitigating natural disasters, stabilising people's lives and building new-style rural areas. Notably, the development of the irrigation system must ensure synchronous connection with the infrastructure system of other industries and sectors such as transport, electricity and tourism. The State will continue to invest in constructing special important, major, inter-provincial and inter-regional irrigation projects; works that are difficult to mobilise social resources; irrigation works serving national security and defence and disaster prevention and control; the projects in ethnic minority, mountainous, island and difficult regions and in the areas that lack water and are affected by climate change. The authorities will continue to encourage and create favourable conditions for organisations and individuals to invest in the construction of irrigation works.

Organisations exploiting irrigation works and supplying rural domestic water and community management units should innovate and improve the efficiency of their operations. It is essential to implement pricing mechanism for irrigation products and services; promote internal resources and the subjective role of people in irrigation work; raise the quality of irrigation services and the safety level of irrigation works; and work out plans to proactively prevent and control drought, water shortages, saltwater intrusion, flooding, inundation and water pollution in irrigation works.

Related agencies should continue to enhance technological research and application to improve the efficiency of planning, investment, management and exploitation of irrigation and rural domestic water supply projects as well as to prevent disasters and ensure the safety of dams and reservoirs, and the quality of water resources. International cooperation should be enhanced to build effective relations with other countries in the Mekong River basin, especially the building of information sharing mechanism on the management, exploitation and use of inter-country water resources.