UNICEF: “Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation services, coupled with poor hygiene practices, kills and sickens thousands of children every day, and leads to impoverishment and diminished opportunities for thousands more.”
Ready access to clean water is assumed to be a right in developed nations, but in many parts of the world, access to usable water is never taken for granted. In Vietnam, in the poor rural district of Can Gio in the Saigon River delta, most families only have access to the polluted, brackish water of the Saigon River.
Seasonal rains harvested from the roofs of their small houses, present the best alternative source of water. However, an adequate storage facility is vital.
Ceramic vessels are commonly used by the poor, but they don’t hold much water and are easily broken. (See background of photo below) The larger, much more expensive plastic containers don’t break, but can fairly easily be stolen (or sold to support a habit). The best solution seems to be 1,500 liter (496 gal.) cement tanks, which are very difficult to break and nearly impossible to move once they are made.
Since 2005, Hands-On Saigon has been able to donate 835 of these cement rainwater tanks to 835 needy families in Can Gio, providing a good source of water for all their daily tasks. They use whatever means they can to harvest the rainwater, keeping the tanks as full as possible for as long as possible. Following the 6-month hot-rainy season there are often rainy days throughout the next 6 months.
During extended dry periods, local residents are forced to buy water from private companies. The less water they have to buy, the less pressure on their very meager incomes. Recent price increases and soaring inflation in Vietnam have naturally impacted the underprivileged the hardest. The poorest village residents are placed at the top of the list of water tank recipients each year. Since manufacturing and installment is done locally, the families of the local laborers also benefit from the employment provided by the water tank construction.
Can Gio is known for the defoliation of its mangrove forests by aerial spraying with Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Although the main use of the land is for agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and salt production, most of the families who benefit from Hands-On Saigon’s project have no land and earn their living only by collecting firewood or catching crabs and mollusks. Below, a small shrimp is being checked for health and size. A shrimp farm is pictured on the right.
The local villagers also earn money harvesting the water palm. Below, a worker pauses in the field where she’s been cutting down the mature leaves of the water palm plant. These will first be dried, and then used for the thatched walls and roofs of most houses in the area. On the right, another worker walks across the water palm fronds lain to dry in the sun.
Preparation for the construction of the tanks begins far from the eventual destination. At the home of the local foreman who oversees the building of the tanks, the metal form used for making 100 cement tanks is made. After about 100 times, the form becomes misshapen and not likely to hold up well. On the right, a well-used form is being secured.
The bags of cement arrive and the sand is delivered to a convenient spot where laborers bag it, in preparation for transport by boat to the remote locations on the isolated islands in the Saigon River delta.
The truck then delivers the gravel and the same process is repeated.
Below, the small boats are being loaded with sand and gravel. On the right, after arriving at the destination, the larger boat shows the cement being unloaded as the workers continue the arduous task of transporting the materials from the river to the small houses where the tanks will be built.
Motorcycles are loaded with bags of sand, gravel and cement as the workers head for the needy homes along dirt paths.
Finally, the cement is mixed and poured into the waiting frame.
The completed tanks are ready to be painted and available for use by some happy family (supplementing or replacing the ceramic pots).