A large share of the 1999 flooding in Vietnam occurred in the Perfume River Basin in Thua Thien Hue Province. The basin has the highest rainfall in Vietnam. This results in a high runoff in the rainy season, which is exacerbated by the steep gradient of the Perfume River.

Flooding and saltwater intrusion

During the past decades, the uplands in the basin have been badly degraded, due to timber extraction, the spraying of defoliants during the war and recent uncontrolled use of wood for fuel. Erosion and large-scale flooding are the result. Yet, during the dry period of the year, the flow of Perfume River diminishes to such an extent that salt water traverses up-river and threatens the domestic water intake of the city.

A solution beyond dikes and dams

The provincial authorities had constructed a number of dikes and dams to contain the flood waters and prevent salt water intrusion. Yet, the devastating floods of 1999, and the less severe floods of 2000, indicated the shortcomings of this structural approach to flood management and mitigation. An alternative solution based on an integrated management approach of the basin was needed. Such an integrated approach also addresses the current over-exploitation of resources in the basin and the lagoon.

Finding integrated solutions

The various departments involved in water resources management cooperate very little, despite the recognition of their staff that management interventions from one department always impact those of another. There is only limited exchange of information due to an absence of a clear regulatory framework.

The government formed the Perfume River Project Management Board to guide investment in the river basin. However, the Board does not function as a river basin management authority. The question is whether the various departments and the Board can cooperate effectively on a coherent strategy and a basin management plan to deal with all aspects of water resources and flood management.

From disaster relief to sustainable development

At local level, very few activities were carried out on flood vulnerability reduction, water resources protection or resource rehabilitation. Most local work had been disaster relief. Other investments, for example in water supply, sanitation or environmental protection had been extremely small or absent. 

The Perfume River Management Project

The long-term goal of the project was improved flood management and sustainable resource use based on restored ecological services and an integrated water and land management. The specific objectives of the project were:

  1. To strengthen existing institutions that allowed the set-up of an integrated management system for the Perfume river basin
  2. To develop a master plan for the integrated management 
  3. To provide technical assistance to the relevant authorities for environmental benign development of effective flood management that included both infrastructure and soft-engineering measures
  4. To restore critical pilot areas that had specific values for flood-control and/or the sustainable management of water resources in the basin
  5. To implement community based integrated water resources management activities
  6. To develop well targeted studies on critical issues for sustainable water management and raise awareness on these amongst decision makers at provincial, district and community level

The project provided for a mid-term strategy to deal with some of the critical issues of flooding and over-extraction. It addressed both the direct vulnerability of livelihoods and the environmental needs in the basin in an integrated management plan, and pilot activities on the ground. The project allowed the Province of Hue to move from disaster mitigation towards sustainable resource use and conservation.

Partners in the Huong River Basin were:

Government of Vietnam (Provincial People's Committee, Perfume River Project Management Board), Asian Development Bank, JICA, and JBIC

Duration and cost

The project was scheduled for 5 years at a total cost of US$ 2.8 million