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Seeking Water from the Rocks - Ha Giang

For a long time, the plateau consisting of Dong Van, Meo Vac, Quan Ba and Yen Minh Districts in Ha Giang Province has been called "the thirsty rocky region". At the height of 1,000-1,400m above sea level, rugged mountains make up most of this plateau's natural acreage. Living in such a harsh nature, the local residents are in a great shortage of land for cultivation and water all the year round. A project to build a "hanging reservoir" on the mountain side in this area has been implemented efficiently which will help solve the problem of not having enough water for the locals' life.


Situated at the height of 1,000-1,400m above sea level, rugged mountains
make up most of the natural acreage of the four districts of Ha Giang Province,
so natural lakes are rarely seen in this region.

The thirsty rocky region

Our car climbed to the top of Ma Pi Leng Mountain in Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province, then crossed the "Heaven’s Gate" Xa Phin in Dong Van District. From there we saw on the valleys below the prevailing dark grey colour of rocks. During our two weeks of traveling to hamlets of the Mong, Dao, Lo Lo, and Giay ethnic groups, we heard many stories, both happy and sorrowful, about the local people's life, but mostly about their struggle for water.

Residents on this rocky plateau said that nowhere in Vietnam is water more needed than in the four upland districts of Ha Giang Province. In the dry season, from late October to April, lacking water is very normal.


Giang Mi Dia, a 3rd grade pupil of Thai Phin Tung Commune’s Primary School, Dong Van District, Ha Giang Province, finds a small cave with water in the mountain, which is very valuable on the rocky plateau in the dry season.

The most impressive image of the rocky plateau in the dry season is that the water source
at any place is utilized by the locals.

Giang Minh Mua in a small rocky cave on the high mountain, 1.300m above sea level,
in Pa Vi Commune, Meo Vac District, whose water source is considered
the region’s blood-vessel by the locals.

To have water for their daily life, locals in Pa Vi Commune in Meo Vac District must
buy water from lorries carrying water from the small water cave on the high mountain,
about 1,300m above sea level.

Every household sends members, mainly women, to fetch water at underground flows,
dozens of kilometers from their house. In the photo: Vang Thi May in
Xa Phin Commune carries a 25-littre can of water.

22-year-old Phung May Viem from Sung Mang Commune, Meo Vac District, patiently fetches underground water from a mountain cave to a can to bring home for use.

Sung Thi Ly, 56 years old, from Sa Phin Commune, takes the last
mugs of rain water from an old tank.

On the way to Meo Vac District we saw groups of ethnic people, including the elderly and children, fetching water. They carried papooses on their back, held cans of water in their hands and tied more cans around their waist. Giang Dong No, a Mong ethnic man who was carrying a water jar on his way home to Can Chu Phin Commune, in broken Vietnamese explained to us: "I don’t have any water near my home so I must trek over several mountains to get it.”

In Dong Van District, we talked with a 10-year-old Mong boy, Giang Mi Dia, who was on his way home. When the school was over he hurried to fetch water from the rocky caves and carried a small papoose with a 5-litre can of water inside on his back. The precious water he found, either from caves or streams, was transferred into the can without spilling a drop.

Sung Dai Hung, Chairman of Dong Van District People’s Committee, said: "In the dry season the local people have to spend much of their time fetching water. Back home they have to keep the water stored for a few days to get it clean before using. Those who have such sources of water are really lucky, because out of 19 communes and one district, only the two communes of Ma Le and Pho Cao have a regular supply of water. The rest don’t even have a source.”

A water reservoir built on the mountain side

Through on-the-spot surveys, scientists found out that in the dry season the four upland districts of Ha Giang Province still has underground water. Due to geographical terrains and tectonic forming, in those districts after raining, water quickly absorbs into the limestone layers, running through caves and cracks towards the lower places, then creating currents underground and inside the mountains. Those currents will gather in some places and form into streams. With these findings, scientists have so far expected to find some solutions to the water shortage problem.


A reservoir in Sinh Lung Commune, Dong Van District.

The Xa Phin reservoir in Xa Phin B Hamlet, Xa Phin Commune, Dong Van District has
a volume of 3,000m3, which is built with advanced techniques in reinforcing its bed
and the walls to ensure it being water-proof and keep the water clean.

Water from the reservoirs built on the mountain side helps make
the locals’ life in the four districts of Ha Giang Province stable and happy.

A family water tank in the commune where there is a “hanging reservoir”.

“Hanging reservoir” has lessened people’s worry about water.

“Hanging reservoir” has lessened people’s worry about water.

Seo Cau Lo and his family in Dong Van District have water for daily use
from the hanging reservoir built on the mountain side.

With a hope of getting some remarks from the scientists on such a difficult problem we met Doctor of Science Vu Cao Minh, who not long ago was the head of a scientific project titled "Experimental research of some solutions for water supply to especially difficult northern mountainous regions". The project was co-sponsored by the Vietnam Institute of Geology under Vietnam Institute of Science and Technology. Relating to this project, Dr. Minh said the reason he and a group of scientists from the Vietnam Institute of Geology had chosen Xa Phin Commune, Dong Van District for their research was that the local geological and pedologic characteristics are typical for the entire rocky plateau of Ha Giang, i.e., having rows of bare and sharp cliffs, a very poor system of primeval flora, no water in the dry season and only a few places with water leaking from the mountain sides in the rainy season. From those characteristics, Minh and his colleagues concluded that it was possible extract underground water from the mountain sides and build a reservoir on the mountain side and close to the water source. The project, known by the local people as "a hanging reservoir technology", is aimed at solving water shortage on the rocky plateau in Ha Giang Province.

According to Dr. Minh, the key steps in using the "hanging reservoir technology" are to clearly define the water source from the mountains, build the "water caves" by drilling and mining the rocks, build the reservoir, and bring water from mountains to the reservoir. Being aware of the advantages of this project, authorities of Ha Giang Province People's Committee have in recent years co-operated with scientists from the Vietnam Institute of Geology to develop surveys and build some "hanging reservoirs" on the rocky plateau. Two reservoirs were built, one in Xa Phin B Hamlet, Xa Phin Commune, Dong Van District, with a storing capacity of 3,000m3, and another in Ta Lung Hamlet, Ta Lung Commune, Meo Vac District, with a capacity of 30,000m3. Those two reservoirs, although built for experimental purposes, have brought good results to ensure a water supply to the upland residents. Advantages of the "hanging reservoir" have been confirmed effective in terms of water storage and a simple, but creative solution to the tough problem.

More reservoirs to be built

We discussed the theme of water shortage with Chairman of Ha Giang People's Committee, Nguyen Truong To. He said: "Since the 1980s, leaders of Ha Giang People's Committee have paid most of their attention to finding solutions to water shortage in these four upland districts. At first, they planned to build public tanks to reserve rain water for the local community. However, that plan proved unfeasible because the tanks could not be built large enough to store an amount of water demanded, plus to difficulties in management and hygienic keeping. In the 1990s, together with the State's programmes on supporting the needy ethnic people, Ha Giang authorities granted loans to households to build their own water tanks, each having a capacity of 4-6m3 of water. The plan, after being implemented, helped supply 20-30 % of the water needed by the residents in the four highland districts.


The local ethnic people participate in building Lung Phua reservoir
in Lung Chinh Commune, Meo Vac District.

Young Mong men carry stones for the construction of a reservoir in
Giang Chu Phin Commune, Meo Vac District.

Building the floor of a reservoir in Cho Gio Hamlet, Can Chu Phin Commune, Meo Vac District.

The “hanging reservoir” can supply 150 litres of water per person per day.

In 2007, following the scientists' suggestions, Ha Giang authorities launched a drive to drill and explore underground water in some areas. But due to the old mountains with many karst caves, their efforts met with many difficulties, especially when the investment needed for the exploration and mining is huge. At present the feasible and efficient solution is to build reservoirs, each with a storing capacity of 30,000-40,000m3 of water.

In early 2007, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited the four upland districts of Ha Giang Province and acknowledged good results brought in by the two "hanging reservoirs" in Xa Phin and Ta Lung Hamlets. He ordered the building of 30 more reservoirs, including small tanks in each hamlet or commune, so as to supply enough water for the local residents.

According to Dr. Minh's assessment, the solution to build "hanging reservoirs" can be applied feasibly to each hamlet. However to meet the demand on water not only in daily life but also for production in the upland areas, a larger scale solution should be reviewed, for example, increasing the volume of the hanging reservoir to hundreds of thousands of cubic metres, raising the water level of underground rivers and streams in the low areas of this rocky plateau with support from the upstream dams, connecting the water sources on the rocky plateau together in order to supply water to the needy areas as well as to locations where the residents are living and farming.

In line with the Prime Minister's decision, Ha Giang Province has completed construction of, and put into operation, 10 reservoirs, and the rest are under construction and expected to be completed in 2009. During our recent visit to Ha Giang Province, we witnessed villagers from Lung Chinh, Sung Tra and Sung Mang Communes in Meo Vac District, Thai Phin Tung and Lung Phin in Dong Van District to be so happy when receiving fresh water from the reservoirs built near the mountain side. In the near future, their joy will be shared by more villagers in other communes. Stories about the drought and water shortage will be issue of the past when construction of the "hanging reservoirs" is completed, which records a marvellous exploit in the history of the rocky plateau of Ha Giang Province.

Vietnam family tour:

Stop off: Ha Noi - Ha Long - Cat Ba - Hue - Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh - Cu Chi Tunnels - Mekong Delta

Ha Noi - Ha Long - Tam Coc - Kenh Ga - Bat Trang - But Thap - Dong Ho - Ho Chi Minh - Cai Be - Can Tho - Ho Chi Minh

Ha Noi - Thai Nguyen - Ba Be - Cao Bang - Ha Giang - Dong Van - Hoang Su Phi - Bac Ha - Sa Pa - Coc Ly - Lao Cai - Ha Noi

Ha Noi - Mai Chau - Ban Sai - Cam Thuy - Hoa Lu - Hue - Ho Chi Minh - Can Duoc -   Mékong Delta - Ho Chi Minh

Ha Noi - Lao Cai - Bac Ha - Sa Pa - Ha Noi - Tam Coc - Ha Long - Hue - Hoi An - My Son - Da Lat - Ho Chi Minh - Can Tho - Chau Doc - Ho Chi Minh

Ha Noi - Ha Long - Cat Ba - Ninh Binh - Tam Coc - Phat Diem- Ha Noi - Hue - Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh Ville - Cai Be - Vinh Long - Ho Chi Minh City

Ha Noi - Ha Long - Tam Coc - Hoa Lu - Hue - Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh Ville - Cai Be - Vinh Long - Ho Chi Minh City

Hanoi - Bat Trang - Halong - Hue - Da Nang - Hoi An - Ho Chi Minh City - My Tho - Can Tho - Rach Gia - Phu Quoc  - Ho Chi Minh

Ha Noi  - Sa Pa – Ninh Binh - Ha Long – Hue – Hoi An – Sai Gon – My Tho – Can Tho – Sai Gon

Ha Noi-Mai Chau-Cuc Phuong-Ninh Binh-Phat Diem-Tam Coc- Ha Long- Hue- Hoi An-Da Nang-Sai Gon-  Mekong Delta-Cu Chi-Tay Ninh