Sanitation Project Overcomes Challenges to Transform Polluted Canal into Clean Waterway

September 6, 2012

  • More than 1.2 million people now have better sanitation conditions
  • More than 400,000 people are safer from flooding
  • Technically complex and challenging, lessons learned from project are being applied to upgrade other drainage basins

September 6, 2012 - August 18, 2012 was a historic day for Nguyen Thanh Suong. Living right next to the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe canal in Ho Chi Minh City, he had witnessed its transformation over 20 years. On this day, the canal officially received a new face, serving as a symbol of progress for the city.

Where there was once a polluted canal that posed a health risk to everyone living near it, a clean waterway flows today with a sewer system that helps to reduce flooding and collects wastewater safely.

Suong was joined by more than a million local residents as well as the State President of Vietnam Truong Tan Sang, and Ho Chi Minh City Mayor Le Hoang Quan, in commemorating this milestone.

“I am happy and proud to join the inauguration of the Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe Canal upgrade.” Suong said. “20 years ago, Nhieu Loc – Thi Nghe meant a dark and stinky canal full of waste. For too long, households along the canal had been dumping their waste in the water, adding to the pollution.”

Begun in 2002, the Ho Chi Minh City Environmental Sanitation project was designed to address these issues and revive the waterway for a greener and healthier urban living environment. This involved the construction of a sewer interceptor under the canal, 8 kilometers long and 3 meters in diameter, to improve the canal’s drainage capacity, as well as strengthening of the canal’s embankments and installing over 60 kilometers of sewer lines. It is just one of several projects that the World Bank is supporting to improve the lives of people in this rapidly expanding metropolis.

"The project has important impacts to comprehensively and sustainably develop Ho Chi Minh City,” said Mayor Le Hoang Quan. “It has significantly reduced flooding and pollution, bringing a better living environment for over 1.2 million people in the 7 districts where the canal runs through.”

Working together to resolve implementation challenges

Technically complex and challenging, project teams from both the local government and the World Bank had to overcome many challenges that arose during implementation. The project applied tunneling works in Vietnam’s unpredictable sub-surface soil and groundwater conditions that had never been done before.  

Because the project is located in the central business district with heavy traffic and high population density, construction work could only be done at night for the most part. The unpredictable relocation of existing underground water pipes – including a 2 meter diameter water main, power and telecommunication cables added to the challenge.

“There were many difficult times during the implementation of this project, but everyone agreed it was important to continue to move ahead”, said Le Duy Hung, the World Bank's Senior Urban Specialist who has worked on the project since its inception.

As a result, lessons learned from work on the Nhieu Loc Thi Nghe canal are now being applied to upgrade similar drainage basins in the city, increasingly seen as an example of green growth for all. The project serves as a successful benchmark on how to use natural resources more efficiently, to improve the living conditions of urban residents.

The project is part of a larger program to promote green growth for all in the city – a program that includes integrated land use transport planning and bus rapid transit, the participatory upgrading of low-income neighborhoods, the step-by-step improvement of the cities drainage and wastewater collection and treatment systems, improving the efficiency of urban water services by reducing non-revenue water in conjunction with the private sector and promoting the financial and economic sustainability of the city.