Mr. Jake Brunner - IUCN Vietnam Programme Coordinator attended Green Conference, a series of events on environmental issues, in Hanoi on September 25, 2010 that was organized by a group of local NGOs. IUCN (together with several other organizations) co-sponsored the event and he gave a presentation on civil society participation in water resources management. (The presentation, which suggests why Vietnam struggles with the implementation of environmental policy, is attached.) He then answered questions.
One question was about the use of fees and taxes to reduce water pollution. He replied that in most countries water is priced at a level that encourages water conservation by households and companies, and generates income to maintain and, crucially, given the rapidly expanding urban populations, to expand the water distribution system. (Water in HCMC and Hanoi is priced below this level.) Although a powerful management tool, pricing is only part of the story. For example, if a factory pours toxic chemicals into the river, that’s a decision that has nothing to do with the price of water but more likely motivated by a wish to cut costs. This is an issue for law enforcement not economic incentives. Polluters shouldn’t be paid to obey the law, especially when the health impacts are so serious. In fact, the success of pricing to reduce water wastage depends on effective enforcement to ensure high levels of compliance. So while there is much talk in Vietnam about the need to price natural resources correctly, this does not absolve government of the need to enforce its own environmental laws and regulations. It’s not just a question of pricing!