HCMC residents watch clean food source become a stinking sewer

By Ha An   April 25, 2021 | 05:11 pm PT
HCMC residents watch clean food source become a stinking sewer
A section of the Tham Luong-Ben Cat-Nuoc Len Canal in HCMC is badly polluted, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An.
A canal flowing through seven HCMC districts was once a source of food and extra income. Today it is a stinking, polluted sewer.

People who have lived on the banks of the canal for decades have seen this ugly transformation happen in front of their eyes and suffered its impacts, too.

An April afternoon, Hoang Ngoc Lan, 72, steps into the vegetable garden in front of his house in Binh Hung Hoa Ward of Ho Chi Minh City’s outlying Binh Tan District.

Just several steps away from the garden is the Tham Luong-Ben Cat-Nuoc Len canal. The waterway functions as a drainage canal for the city, but for years, it has not been able to perform this task because it has shrunk and filled up with various types of solid waste, not to mention wastewater that turns it black and causes it to stink.

Lan and other long term residents of its banks still remember that the canal, one of the longest in the city, flowing through seven districts – 12, Binh Tan, Tan Phu, Tan Binh, Go Vap, Binh Thanh, and Binh Chanh – had clean water. "The canal that flows with clean water is now a memory for people who have lived here since 20 years ago," he said.

In 2000, the entire neighborhood where Lan lives had just 10 houses or so and most of them were rice farmers. The canal was where they would go to catch fish for their daily meals or to earn some extra money. But just a few years later, things changed drastically as more and more people came to settle down in areas along the canal alongside rapid urbanization of the city.

Quickly, the fields of rice and wild grass disappeared and were replaced by concrete buildings and roads. The canal with clean water became a sewer with garbage discarded by locals and untreated wastewater discharged by various production facilities. In many cases, the canal was encroached and at some sections, reduced to a width of a few meters from the original 30 meters.

Hoang Ngoc Lan stands by the Tham Luong-Ben Cat-Nuoc Len Canal in Binh Hung Hoa Ward, Binh Tan District, HCMC, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An.

Hoang Ngoc Lan stands by the Tham Luong-Ben Cat-Nuoc Len Canal in Binh Hung Hoa Ward, Binh Tan District, HCMC, April 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ha An.

Not very far from Lan’s house, the canal is filled up with trash, including building materials, used mattresses, animal carcasses, wild grass and water hyacinths that make the water stagnate instead of flow.

Trinh Thi Le Uyen, 37, runs a coffee shop in the neighborhood. She said her business has seriously been affected by the malodour coming from the canal. Her two sons, aged three and 12, are frequently bitten by mosquitoes because the stagnant water of the canal has become a perfect habitat for the insects.

"I spray mosquito killers and burn mosquito coils every day, but there seems to be no way to get rid of mosquitoes cause there are just too many of them."

Uyen said she has witnessed people throwing trash into the canal, but every time she told them not to do it, they would respond rudely and insult her.

Hope dies, rises again

In 2016, when a project was launched to renovate the canal, people living near the canal in Binh Hung Hoa Ward were happy, thinking they had finally escaped their misery.

However, the happiness did not last long. The project was put on hold for a lack of investment.

These days, hope has returned again with the news that all problems related to financing and investment for a master plan to renovate the Tham Luong-Ben Cat-Nuoc Len Canal to mitigate urban flooding and improve waterway transportation have been sorted out.

As decided last week, the project will begin implementation this year and be completed by 2025. It will build concrete embankments and roads that run 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) along the canal, relocate a number of households, dredge the entire water body, rebuild or repair sewer systems, and build 12 docks.

All this work is expected to cost VND8.2 trillion ($356 million), of which VND4 trillion will be sourced from the central budget and the rest from HCMC’s coffers.

The project is expected to reduce pollution, improve drainage and prevent flooding in the seven districts that the canal flows through. It will also improve waterway transportation between HCMC and the Mekong Delta as well as the city’s neighboring provinces of Binh Duong and Dong Nai. This, in turn, would ease traffic jams on a number of highways.

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