Issues related to water resources upstream (Tan Ho Co commune) and downstream (Dai An commune) of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam were studied. The role of gender, ethnicity and class in water management was ascertained. Social qualitative research, using in-depth interviews of local respondents was undertaken and ethnographic field strategies were adopted during field trips to record real-time observations.
Access to water resources varied among men and women; the rich, poor and middle classes; and, various ethnic groups. Participation in the decision-making processes related to water in households and communities varied greatly among men, women and members of different ethnicities and classes. At the community level, a bottom-up approach as per the national structure system was adopted for decision-making processes, with local institutional arrangements being based on the involvement of local people.
Water resource was important for local upstream and downstream communities for domestic use and livelihood activities. Along with declining quality and quantity due to human activities and development, local people in upstream sites faced flooding and pollution while those downstream faced saltwater intrusion. Upstream activities impacted downstream communities and water conflict was evident in the whole Mekong Delta region. Water for women was associated with domestic activities while, for men, it was for livelihood activities. Local communities were less involved in decision-making processes related to water. Female gender and lower income levels affected health adversely by way of poor sanitation and limited water availability.
Approach different from the national policy seems to have caused misunderstanding for local ethnic groups, as their management structure was quite different from that among Khmer ethnic group generally. Participation in meetings was influenced by the language used. Local government officers considered water to be unimportant and preferred less water management. There was no collaboration between upstream and downstream communities.