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Operational water systems in Vietnam: Opportunities and Challenges

The modernization of the hydrological forecasting and warning system started in Vietnam in 2014 under the project “Strengthening Weather Forecasting and Early Warning System” at the Vietnam National Hydro-Met Services (now known as Vietnam Meteorological Hydrology Administration - VMHA) under the framework of Vietnam Managing Natural Hazard Project funded by the Work Bank. Five years later, an operational marine and hydrological forecasting system was developed and deployed at VMHA based on Delft-FEWS platform by JBA Consulting. Together with a central data hub, the new FEWS system is a big development step at the national center, transferring and integrating mostly manually handled and fragmented forecast workflows into an integrated platform. But it is just the start of the FEWS story in Vietnam as the interest of FEWS application keeps increasingly raising in Vietnam, not only at the national scale but especially at regional and provincial scale and for a wide range of water applications.   

In the Mekong Delta, the southern part of Vietnam, a water quality monitoring and salinity forecasting knowledge platform was developed in 2018 and deployed in operational mode in late 2020 for two coastal provinces: Ben Tre and Tra Vinh under the IFAD funded Project for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Mekong Delta (AMD). The AMD system provides real time water quality and salinity observations and hourly salinity predictions at 40 main river stations. A mobile application was also developed to disseminate information to local authorities and publics. 

Keeping on that exciting route, we are currently working on our next FEWS system for Vu Gia Thu Bon river basin and Hoi An City (FEWS-HoiAn), the biggest river basin in the middle region of Vietnam, which is expected to be operationally deployed next year in Quang Nam province. The system is developing with the latest version of Delft – FEWS in a Client – Server mode and providing real time hydrological-meteorological observations in the catchment, flood/drought forecasting & warnings, and real-time flood inundation maps. Together with a Client – Server Forecasting system, a stand-alone FEWS-DSS system will also provide support to the province on reservoir management & operation and other hazards warnings: salt intrusion, flash flood and landslides. Moreover, a disaster information dissemination system via web and/or mobile application is going to be executed and provide near real time information of water flow observations and potential hazards prediction and warnings for publics and provincial organizations. The FEWS-HoiAn has been granted by the Asian Development Bank through the Urban Development and Climate Change Adaptation Project.

Beyond these above-mentioned Deltares projects, FEWS has also been introduced to Vietnamese users (organizations and/or experts) by our international and national partners over these recent years. HKV together with Future Water and Delft Technical University delivered their FEWS-based integrated water management platform in the Red River with a focus on optimal reservoir management to the National Water Resources Investigation and Planning Center under Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) in 2016. The National Vietnam University in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City applied FEWS software for their reservoir simulation and prediction for the Red River Delta and planned to develop a water quality monitoring and modelling system for Thi Vai River within their state funded studies.  It demonstrates the widely open opportunities to replicate our FEWS concept for operational water systems in Vietnam in coming years.

Although the bright overall picture of FEWS opportunities is obvious, we have been facing a lot of challenges during both system development and operation phases. The three main challenges are: (i) data availability and accessibility, (ii) language barrier and (iii) local capacity limitations for system operation. While the language barrier has been partly solved with our FEWS GUI – Vietnamese language package and our cooperation with high-qualified local experts, data availability and accessibility mainly depend on legal data management, exploration and sharing mechanism among governmental organizations regulated by laws as well as the willingness of other non-governmental data owners. This often requires a lot of efforts and understanding of local institutional arrangements and regulations to communicate with all relevant stakeholders to come up with a win-win agreement. The challenge of local capacity limitations for system operation is always one of the most important of our concerns from the beginning of the project when preparing a good strategy and planning. We experienced that the best strategy should focus not just only on intensive on-job-training and regular knowledge transfer activities but also O&M planning. We foresee that the O&M support for at least the first 2-years’ operation is crucial because this is the transition phase from the development stage to operation stage when users and/or operators are getting familiar with the system, self-learning its processes, practicing its workflows and asking questions. In addition, there is not one-size-fits-all design and/or platform for everybody. Users sometimes do not need the most modern system. The most suited are always tailor-made and sustainable state-of-art systems developed to the needs of the users.