Water shortage reminds Hanoians of decades past

By Phuong Lam    October 19, 2019 | 07:50 am GMT+7

With tap water affected by the contamination of a local river, Hanoians are wrestling with a water shortage just like in the old days.      

For the past two days no sooner does he hear the loudspeaker announcement than 70-year-old Nguyen Ba Nghiem rushes down to the yard of his apartment building with a bucket.        

Every time he manages to carry the 15-liter bucket to his flat on the 10th floor of HH3A Linh Dam Apartment, he pauses to catch his breath. At his age he can fetch three buckets at most at one go.    

"I feel as if I am living in the government subsidy period," he laments. 

Residents at Linh Dam Urban Zone carry water in a baby stroller. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

Residents at Linh Dam Urban Zone carry water in a baby stroller. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

Decades ago, he recalls, in northern Hai Phong City, he would often use a brick to reserve his place in a long queue of people who had to wait for water at 3 a.m.  

In those bad old days, by the time he fetched five or six buckets, the sun would be up and he would leave for work as a guard at Hai Phong Port. Two years ago he and his wife moved from Hai Phong to Hanoi to live with their son’s family in the apartment in Hoang Mai District. 

He says while he did not expect Hanoi’s water supply to match that of Hai Phong, reputed to be one of the best in Vietnam, "I never thought it could be this bad."    

Nghiem’s household is one of 250,000 in the city’s southwest to be supplied tap water by Vinaconex Water Supply Joint Stock Company (Viwasupco).      

People queue up to fill water from trucks. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

People queue up to fill water from trucks. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh.

On the night of October 8, used oil was dumped illegally into an upstream section of the Da River, the biggest branch of the Red River, which flows from Yunnan in China through northern Vietnam to the Gulf of Tonkin.

The contaminated section ran into the Tram river and spread to Dam Bai Lake in the northwestern province of Hoa Binh which provides water to Viwasupco. Two days later many Hanoi residents noticed a burnt smell emanating from their tap water. 

Local authorities tested the water and found it contained excessive levels of styrene, a carcinogenic compound used in the production of latex and synthetic rubber.

Since then, while waiting for Viwasupco to clean up the water, many people have stopped consuming tap water and switched to bottled water.

The Hanoi Water Limited Company and other suppliers in the city have helped by dispatching free water trucks to affected areas, where people line up with buckets as late as at midnight. 

Scrabbling for water 

All the while affected people like Le Minh Thao of Kim Giang Ward, Thanh Xuan District, are using whatever little water they have with extreme care.

Thao’s family still has two cubic meters of water in reserve for bathing and washing. Though the tap water no longer smells bad, he is not confident enough yet to use it for cooking. 

Having heard about Thao’s plight, relatives from his home province of Thanh Hoa even sent him 60 five-liter bottles of water. 

Bottled water sent to Le Minh Thao as a gift by his relatives in the countryside. Photo courtesy of Le Minh Thao.

Bottled water sent to Le Minh Thao as a gift by his relatives in the countryside. Photo courtesy of Le Minh Thao.

Thao said he would share a third of the precious, "strange gifts from the countryside" with other relatives living in his neighborhood. As for his own family of six, they will have to use the remaining water thriftily. 

For the past week Hoang Khue, a resident of the Mo Lao Urban Zone in Ha Dong District, has also been miserable due to lack of water. 

She has spent VND1.3 million (US$57) to buy bottled water, which is her usual water bill for a whole year. 

Her family has been bathing and washing with the contaminated tap water and drinking the bottled water. As for cooking, she filters the tap water before using it and selects simple dishes to cook, especially those that do not need water. 

One day the water supply in her neighborhood was cut off to clean pipes, and Khue’s family went out to eat grilled fish, because it was not watery and would not require urination afterward. Without water to flush the toilet, her family has been urinating in empty bottles and adults have been defecating at work. 

In Nam Tu Lien District, Nguyen Thi Huyen, 30, who lives in an apartment on To Huu Road, is having a similar crisis and has stopped making vegetable soups because there is no clean tap water. 

"Cooking feels too wretched now," she said and went on to order two pizzas for dinner. 

Every day for the last three days she has been spending VND78,000 ($3) to buy 18 liters of water for cooking. 

Her apartment building has stopped getting water because the city has to prioritize hospitals and schools. "We have to fend for ourselves now," Huyen said. 

Her first grader son gets priority in bathing, but if this water shortage continues, she will have to send her son to her home province of Quang Ninh to live. 

As for her husband and herself, they will have to go to friends’ houses or stay at some hostel to bathe.

 
 
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