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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Water governance of minority communities in the Mekong Delta

PI:  Nguyen Van Kien ( and co-PI Nguyen Trung Thanh, Research Centre for Rural Development, An Giang University
U.S. Partners: Carol Xiaohui Song and Venkatesh Merwade, Purdue University
Project Dates: September 2014 to September 2018
Water is critical to all life. Unfortunately, there are still hundreds of millions of people without access to proper water and sanitation facilities. Unequal or unethical distribution of water and access to resources is a critical issue worldwide. Underrepresented groups and minority communities are often the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and it is critically important to engage minority populations in the management of water resources. The goal of this research project is to work with underrepresented communities in Southern Vietnam to improve water resource management by studying water governance and water access within local villages. Specifically, this project will investigate and document water management knowledge of the Khmer communities in Southern Vietnam, where there is a big gap between science and knowledge in water governance. Not only is this research new and novel, but it also has the ability to strengthen the resilience of these communities to adapt and understand climate change.  The investigators involved in this project have already proven the importance of village-level analyses through previous work with the Vietnam Delta and on resilience of populations to flooding. This project will build on their previous work and will create new knowledge on underrepresented groups living in the Mekong Delta. The project will also strengthen the scientific merit of the hydrologic modeling work being conducted by the U.S. partners at Purdue University. Understanding management decisions and strategies of the Khmer people, as well as other underrepresented groups, can better inform the assumptions made in hydrologic modeling. 

The project directly addresses USAID’s objectives by improving water resource management and reforming governance. New information that can influence water resource management throughout the region will be gathered. The findings of the project are anticipated to give local water managers a better understanding about water governance of the Khmer community in order to better engage them in the decision making process. The findings of the project will help the Khmer community to have a better understanding about their existing water management, which currently  focuses more on quantity and less on quality. The integration of local knowledge and hydrologic science in water governance will be considered in order to achieve community resilience to climate change. The research study also relates to strengthening resilience and response to disasters. Learning from the knowledge within the Khmer community and providing educational materials to the community at the end of this study will better prepare the community to discuss and plan for future natural disasters as well.

3-190 Shallow Well3-190 O Lam Well
A traditional shallow well that exists inside or near many Khmer temples in the Tinh Bien district (photo courtesy of Dr. Kien, second from left).Children and women gather at the earth well in O Lam Commune of the Tri Ton district to collect shallow water for drinking. This water is perceived as very delicious (photo courtesy of Dr. Kien).

Summary of Recent Activities

An An Giang television program depicting project work at Khmer temples.
In the third year of this project, which ended as of September 30, 2017, the PI and his team reported several key activities and accomplishments. Thanks to a small PEER discretionary supplement provided in October 2016, they co-designed and built a rainwater collection tank system for the Ta Ngao Khmer Temple in Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province, to supply safe drinking water for monks, students in local primary and nursery schools, and villagers living nearby. This rainwater harvest system was documented in a report by An Giang Television to help raise public awareness regarding the environmental program under way in province. Based on the successful outcome of this supplemental activity, the rainwater harvest model has been incorporated into the province’s annual environmental program, to be expanded to other Khmer temples in An Giang Province in 2018. In addition, the team presented one paper entitled “Mekong Delta’s groundwater resources: perception, practices, and coping strategies of small holder farmers in Khmer village” at the Australian Groundwater Conference July 11-13, 2017, at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. The paper was later invited to be submitted to the Journal of International Water Policies.
On the research side, the group implemented the second phrase of their data collection effort using structured interviews at two research sites, with 100 households contacted at each site. They also offered a pilot irrigation testing system for young researchers at An Giang University to test their irrigation technologies in citrus. One Master’s student involved in the project has completed his program, another is ready to defend his thesis, and the third is undertaking data collection and writing his report. The research assistant on the project also used the fieldwork data to share with undergraduate students when she taught a community-based water management course at An Giang University.
From September 19 to October 9, 2017, Dr. Kien visited the United States, spending some time on meetings and consultations with his PEER partners and other counterparts at Purdue University. He also established new working relationships with researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The project is continuing on a no-cost extension through September 2018, during which the team will complete four papers to be submitted for publication, draft a book on local water governance of Khmer villages in the Mekong Delta, and organize an international conference to present their research findings in March 2018.

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