Friday, May 23, 2008

Sai Gon's Black Water

Everyday, Ho Chi Minh City dumps 700,000 cubic meters of sewage into the Saigon River, according to Doan Thi Toi, head of the city's environment control division. The sewage is drawn from four canal systems running across the city, giving the river a foul smell even during the rainy season. Another 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage water is pumped into the Tham Luong canal each day from more than 400 factories. The waterway that runs across Ho Chi Minh City contains water so polluted and foul-smelling that locals call it the "stinking canal". (source:
Actually, we came upon one of these "arroyos" or canals as they are called quite accidentally; we had just left a restaurant around District 8 where not only did we enjoy the best pho around, but we were also privy to war memorabilia from the owner's son. That's a good story to tell on its own. As we were staying in District 1 in Saigon, we decided to hop a cab to get back to our hotel. And the driver must have taken the back streets, unless he wanted us to see this eyesore. The water is literally black, and you can see it glistening in the photos. This is severely polluted water, which is several times higher than the "norm", which is apparently is the result of rapid industrialization and poor drainage systems.
This is a picture taken of the stink and black Tau Hu arroyo from the Nhi Thien Duong Bridge in District 8, Ho Chi Minh City. There are several others which all converge into the Sai Gon River. Chuck had asked our cab driver to stop so that he could capture some of the life alongside this river; it was hard to imagine how people could have their homes right on top of this noxious sludge. This is certainly not water you'd want to drink, use for your bath, or wash your clothes. The government, despite imposing certain rules on companies which are irresponsible polluters, has begun moving the citizens that live alongside these areas to other districts.

The water/canal system is fundamental in the life of the Viet Namese people in that it has played an enormously important role in their livelihood. Not only do some inhabit the waterways, but this is a major means of getting goods to market and therefore earning one's keep. As an aside, we never did drink the water from the tap, anywhere that we went. And we were just about all over the country. Nevertheless, officials report that Sai Gon's drinking water does not rely on its river at all, but rather comes from the Dong Nai River for the most part. As late as March of 2008, it was reported in the Viet Namese press that officials were reacting to alerts that the Dong Nai River, was in fact, severely polluted. In fact, a doctor in Sai Gon had told us, when he made a house call to our hotel (that's another hilarious post to look forward to) that the water from the tap was perfectly safe to drink. Neither Chuck nor I were convinced.

This is very unfortunate, as it seems that garbage begets garbage. We are photographing from behind a barbed-wire fence. It looks very much like a dumping ground and it's hard to tell whether they were cleaning it up, or scavenging through it. This area is also vulnerable to flooding which exacerbates the pollution problems; notice that the housing is built in stilts as a precautionary measure. It is also difficult to measure how much of the problem is caused by the people who live on the water, as they are accustomed to dumping their own waste at the back side of their homes.

The government seems to have rated these waterways in terms of severity of pollution, and findings reveal that the Thi Vai, which has a brownish-black color and unpleasant smell caused by high concentration of solid waste such as mercury and zinc, was “uninhabitable” to all forms of life.

The Vam Co had the highest concentration of organic waste, which made its water unsafe for consumption.The HCMC section of the Saigon River was heavily polluted by organic waste such as oil and coliform bacteria, usually found in feces.

An in-depth study of the phenomenon can be found here.

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