Clean water and dream houses for Mekong Delta communities

Clean water and dream houses for Mekong Delta communities

Joseph Nguyen Tuan Phuc SJ

When I was sent to the communities in Minh Hoa in the summer of 2000, I was dismayed to discover that people were using contaminated water from nearby canals for their drinking, cooking, and other daily needs. Water pollution also affected agricultural production and made their lives more difficult.

Minh Hoa ward, with an area of 4,718 hectares, is located in the Chau Thanh district of Kien Giang province in the Mekong Delta Region of Vietnam and is home to around 23,000 people (as of 2020).

Many families also live in dilapidated houses, with no dry place to sleep when it rains. They work hard to earn money and their hope is to have enough food each day, where some only have one meal every two days.

In recent years, a severe shortage of fresh water emerged, particularly for those living in remote areas, and is caused by pesticide pollution and saltwater intrusion.

Excessive use of insecticides contaminated the previously clean water from small rivers and canals. Villagers rely on rice cultivation which used to be an annual event with minimal pesticide and fertilizer use. However, with the advent of multiple rice harvests per year, farmers now use large amounts of chemicals, polluting the water sources. (See related article, As climate changes, Mekong farmers try floating rice)

Saltwater intrusion is a significant contributor to the fresh water crisis and has a negative impact on farmers’ livelihoods. Communities in remote areas are the worst affected as they do not have access to the government’s fresh water supply system. Often, the roads in these communities are too narrow for water tankers to transport fresh water. Residents are forced to use polluted water for daily activities, leading to frequent illnesses such as scabies and intestinal diseases, particularly among women and children.

Clean water and dream houses

Working to earn money to dig wells or build houses is a distant dream for the poor in Minh Hoa. The story of their dream to have clean water and houses reached many people, and contributions from Catholic and Buddhist benefactors are helping their dream come true and led to the establishment of the Clean Water and Dream House programs.

These programs are connecting many good-hearted people from different religions as Buddhist followers and Catholic people join hands and get together to implement the two programs.

Information on families in need of water and houses are obtained directly through community visits and coordinating with the local government. The need for fresh water and houses is then documented and includes information about the families.

There is a network of construction teams that help drill the water wells and build the houses, and the local government provides workers also. A water well costs around US$ 250 and a house costs around US$ 2,000. Upon completion of the well or the house, finance reports and pictures are shared with benefactors. Through the Clean Water program, more than 400 wells now provide clean water to many families.

These programs are also known to the government and who supports the program as much as they could. Government staff share the community situations that need help. For families without land and who receive donated land, the government helps by ensuring the land documents are in good order while they also facilitate other related work.

With a primary goal to foster love and compassion, the programs go beyond providing essential resources to impoverished families. The programs demonstrate care and concern for the poor, helping them feel loved, appreciated and supported. Benefactors also have the chance to exhibit solidarity and a sense of responsibility for the community by sharing their resources and working together.

The Clean Water and Dream House programs, which began in the Minh Hoa region where many Khmer people reside, is now expanded to other provinces within the Mekong Delta region, including Can Tho, Hau Giang, Kien Giang and An Giang. In July, the program is scheduled to provide 10 new houses for 10 families and drill 30 clean water wells.

Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ (LS) reminds us that “..access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.” (LS 30)  “Lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world, both in rural areas and in large cities, since state budgets usually cover only a small portion of the demand. Not only the poor, but many other members of society as well, find it difficult to own a home.” (LS 152)

A video (33 minutes with English subtitles and produced by Jesuit Communications) about the Clean Water and Dream House programs is available here. Fr Joseph Nguyen Tuan Phuc SJ can be reached through his email: tuanphucsj@gmail.com.

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