Vietnamese medals awarded to Eawag scientists

Dübendorf, Press release, 10.03.2009

Four Eawag scientists today received official medals from the Vietnamese government for their achievements in the areas of drinking water quality and sanitation. The medals were awarded in recognition of “outstanding contributions to education and training in Vietnam”. With financial support from the Swiss government, the scientists succeeded in strengthening capacity at two research centres in Northern Vietnam and improving the quality of local water supplies and wastewater management.

Since 1998, as part of the “Environmental Science and Technology in Northern Vietnam” project, four Eawag scientists – Roland Schertenleib, Antoine Morel, Michael Berg and Walter Giger – have been seeking to improve the quality of drinking water and sanitation in this area. They have received the award from the Vietnamese authorities for “outstanding contributions to education and training in Vietnam” – a distinction rarely bestowed on foreign nationals – in recognition of their efforts to develop two research centres in Northern Vietnam. In applied research projects, they identified and investigated serious environmental problems and shared knowledge and wide-ranging research skills with their Vietnamese partners. The medals were awarded by the Vietnamese ambassador at a ceremony held this morning at the country’s embassy in Bern, attended by representatives of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and from the National Centre of Competence in Research North-South (NCCR), as well as the Director of Eawag, Janet Hering.

Building research capacity

Over a period of 10 years, with financial support provided by the SDC, the Eawag scientists were involved in the development of two research institutes – the Centre for Environmental Technology and Sustainable Development (CETASD) and the Centre for Environmental Engineering in Towns and Industrial Areas (CEETIA). The transfer of expertise covered not only the interpretation of scientific data but also detailed planning and implementation of research projects; in the long term, this should enable Vietnamese researchers to analyse environmental problems independently and elaborate the necessary measures.

Drinking water quality improved

As a result of the research partnership with CETASD, major progress was made in the treatment of drinking water in Hanoi, where water supplies had previously shown relatively high concentrations of substances such as iron, arsenic, manganese and ammonia. Thanks to the development of specific remedial strategies and the application of new treatment technologies, the quality of drinking water supplies was improved for more than 2 million people.

 Outside of the cities, groundwater is often used directly as drinking water, even though it is heavily contaminated with arsenic in many areas. Particularly in the densely populated river delta, millions of people are exposed to the risk of chronic arsenic poisoning. To provide a sound basis for countermeasures, the researchers produced a risk map indicating areas with elevated concentrations of arsenic in groundwater. This facilitates more targeted groundwater analysis, which can now also be carried out directly in the field using a newly developed arsenic biosensor. Simple sand filters have been widely used to remove arsenic at groundwater wells, and the design and operation of these filters can now be optimized as a result of research conducted by Eawag.

Wastewater management adapted to local requirements

The problem of wastewater management in Vietnam is closely linked to rapid population growth and industrialization, especially in the cities. A lack of sanitation and inadequate disposal of fecal sludge have led to the widespread occurrence of waterborne and fecally transmitted diseases, posing a growing threat to drinking water resources.

According to wastewater management studies carried out in partnership with the CEETIA and also under the NCCR North-South programme, decentralized solutions are best adapted to the population’s needs and possibilities. At the individual household level, problems of wastewater and fecal matter disposal are best tackled at source. In a pilot project, 30 decentralized systems widely varying in scale (4 to 2000 users) were therefore installed and studied. The results were so convincing that the decentralized approach to sanitation is now being implemented as standard at the national level in Vietnam. In addition, the provision of scientific data led the Vietnamese authorities to recognize the importance of environmentally sound disposal of fecal sludge. To this end, technological and management guidelines were also elaborated as part of the research cooperation.

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