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Keynote Speech by Mr Kamal Malhotra, United Nations Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative, Vietnam, at the Opening Ceremony and Plenary Session - Viet Nam International Water Week

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Event: Opening Ceremony and Plenary Session - Viet Nam International Water Week

Date: 4th March 2018

Venue: ALMAZ International Convention Center, Vinhome Riversides, Hanoi, Vietnam


  • Excellency Mr. Tran Quy Kien, Vice Minister of Natural Resources and Environment;
  • Dr. Lee Hak Soo, Chairman of the Asia Water Council and the Asia International Water Week;
  • Dr. Tong Ngoc Thanh, Chairman of the 2018 Viet Nam International Water Week;
  • Colleagues from ministries, embassies, international organizations, the private sector and civil society,
  • Ladies and Gentlemen;

On behalf of the United Nations in Viet Nam, I am honoured to be with you today at the annual Viet Nam International Water Week, and I would like to express my appreciation to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment for establishing this important annual event to bring together the water community in Viet Nam to dialogue on water and sustainable development.

Water is life as we all know. And, it is more than just essential to quench our thirst and protect our health, but also vital for creating jobs and supporting economic, social and human development. In the world today, it is estimated that there are over 660 million people who live without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or walking to distant sources. In addition, the world's population must cope with the effects of health impacts of using contaminated water, which affected more than 3.7 billion people between 1995 and 2016, causing around 840,000 deaths each year. The combined impacts of population and economic growth, changing social behaviour, environmental damage, climate variability and water-related disasters culminate in an ever more challenging horizon for water, especially in Viet Nam.

Sustainable Development Goal 6 "Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030" focuses on achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water as well as sanitation and hygiene, improving water quality by reducing pollution, increasing water-use efficiency across all economic sectors, and protecting water-related ecosystems – all challenges we can only successfully address together.

Climate change scenarios and models of water cycle dynamics show that the discrepancy between water supply and demand will become increasingly critical in the coming years. The frequency and severity of floods and droughts will likely change in many regions worldwide, with significant socio-economic and environmental consequences. Viet Nam, one of the most climate vulnerable countries globally, experienced the worst drought and salt water intrusion crisis in over 60 years in 2016, and in 2017 had to respond to one of the worst recorded storm and flood seasons. The impacts of climate change and water scarcity have also exacerbated the existing trends in rural to urban migration in Viet Nam, as natural disasters make natural resource-based livelihoods more tenuous.

Distinguished guests,

Water plays a crucial role in the economic development of Viet Nam, especially in agriculture, aquaculture and industry but also in support of its citizens' livelihoods, their health and wellbeing.

At the same time, economic development and population growth, together with climate change, contribute to water-related pressures. Demand for the use of water continues to increase, in production systems and for people. At the same time water is also a channel for pollution through the release of waste water. While 91% of the Vietnamese population have access to clean drinking water, this still leaves more than 4.5 million people in this country without direct access to safe water sources. As a result, the UN, in cooperation with the Government of Viet Nam and water supply companies, developed plans for water treatment, safe storage and water security, aiming for a fully functioning distribution system that will allow access to safe water resources by the entire population. While the Government has made such plans mandatory, enforcement is weak and supplier activities are not always coordinated. If current trends persist, water quality in Viet Nam will continue to degrade over the coming decades, further endangering human health and ecosystems, contributing to water scarcity and constraining sustainable development.

In addition, Viet Nam's fast-paced economic development is leading to a continued loss and degradation of health and natural ecosystems, especially forests, free-flowing rivers and natural wetlands which are being converted for or impacted by commercial agriculture and aquaculture, industrial parks and urbanization.

By strengthening the country's natural infrastructure, using nature-based solutions, important beneficial services for people can be maintained. For example, Viet Nam's forests play an important role in water regulation, replenishing groundwater and ensuring sufficiency of water supply downstream, while reducing soil erosion and flood risks. Along the coast, natural wetlands are important to moderate the impact of extreme events, acting as a natural buffer against the impact of typhoons and storm surges, providing protection to people and development investments. Both inland and along the coast, natural ecosystems contribute to maintaining water quality, purification, and erosion control. It is widely acknowledged that maintaining such green infrastructure is more cost-effective than man-made solutions. At the same time, natural ecosystems are of key importance to support Viet Nam's valuable biodiversity, including many globally threatened as well as unique endemic species.

Please allow me to conclude by saying that the UN in Viet Nam remains strongly committed to helping Viet Nam strengthen inclusive socio-economic development through the adoption of appropriate solutions for the sustainable use and conservation of its natural resources and valuable biodiversity, for the benefit of all its citizens and the environment. By promoting the conservation, sustainable use and restoration of natural ecosystems, the UN can help Viet Nam meet the needs of its people for sufficient water of reliable quality, while also supporting the protection of its environment. In this manner it will contribute to a multitude of SDG goals, including poverty reduction, improved health, access to water and sanitation, sustainable cities, life below water, and life on land. I hope that fruitful discussions will be held at this forum, which will enable us to enhance our collective efforts and outcomes.

Xin Cảm Ơn!

Opening Ceremony and Plenary Session - Viet Nam International Water Week