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Vietnam

Parish Supplies Clean Water For Those Who Need It

Updated: March 13, 2005 05:00 PM GMT
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HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (UCAN) - A parish in Vietnam´s largest city offers migrant workers, students and poor people an alternative to buying bottled water or settling for well water they would rather not use.

The alternative is a water-filtration system Father Joseph Trinh Tin Y set up on the grounds of the Vinh Son parish church in 2000. His parish is located in District 10 of Ho Chi Minh City, 1,710 kilometers south of Ha Noi.

According to Father Y, the primary users of the system are pedicab drivers, dealers in secondhand goods and lottery sellers, who have to work on the streets all day. They used to climb over the fence surrounding the church to fill water bottles when they passed by or stopped to relax, he recalled.

For the past four years, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Suong has walked to Vinh Son church every day with a plastic bottle to fill with water for drinking and a 10-liter can to fill with water for cooking.

Suong, 34, who comes from central Vietnam, pushes a trolley around the streets and alleys of Ho Chi Minh City trading secondhand items to earn a living. She told UCA News 20 other migrants living in her boarding house also take water from the church for their daily needs.

She said they do not want to use water taken from wells for drinking or cooking, because it smells bad and is sour due to alum contamination. But she had to use it before the clean-water project of the Catholic parish, since her boarding house does not have running water. Each time she drank water, she had to put ice into it to reduce the bad smell, she recalled.

Father Y said the filtration system produces 1,000 liters an hour of filtered water that also is sterilized with ultraviolet rays. To minimize the risk of toxic contamination, he starts with tap water, fearing that well water might contain lead or mercury that cannot be filtered.

The system, made in North America, cost 50 million dong (US$3,200). In addition, the parish has to pay more than 2 million dong a month for the tap water supply, which it does through parishioners´ Sunday Mass contributions.

Father Y, 57, said the number of people making use of the church´s filtered water has been increasing. Just six months after the installation of the filtration system, he had to attach two larger faucets to the system so that people could take water with larger cans. Every day students and laborers living in boarding houses and apartment buildings come with all kinds of cans to take water, added the priest, who has been at the parish since 1992.

A female student told UCA News while waiting to take water that she and 14 other students come every day to take water for drinking and cooking because their boarding house does not have water.

Nguyen Van Binh, who lives 10 kilometers from Vinh Son church, told UCA News that every 10 days he spends a morning coming to the church and taking three 30-liter cans of water home on his motorcycle. He had had to ask his relatives for water before he learned about the parish´s clean-water project.

The 45-year-old bricklayer said he and his wife earn 2 million dong a month, barely enough to cover daily needs and school fees for his four children. So he cannot afford to buy bottled water at 15,000 dong for a 20-liter bottle.

The parish allows people to take water from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, but as the number of users grows, so do the lines.

A Protestant man said he goes to the church once a week, at 6:30 a.m., but that these days there are two seven-meter rows of cans already there when he arrives. It now takes him four hours to obtain 70 liters of water for his four-member family to use during the week.

Those who are not intent on taking water home with them do not have to wait in such lines. A pupil at an elementary school next to the church said he and friends go to the church every day to drink water during breaks.

A married couple who settled in District 12, 10 kilometers from the parish, told UCA News that during the past few years, the water of the streams and canals in their locality has become heavily polluted. They said this has caused fish to disappear. They have been drawing "safe" water from the parish for the past year.

However, some people now appear to be exploiting the opportunity. A worker at a small sewing workshop near the church told UCA News his boss has sent him to the church to take 100 liters of water at a time since an increase in gasoline prices in September touched off increases in other commodities.

Father Y admitted that noise, chaos and even fights between people waiting to draw water are undermining the solemnity of the church and affecting evening Masses. He said many parishioners have expressed discontent, but he told them, "Charity work involves us sacrificing and accepting disadvantages."

His proposed solution is to upgrade the filtration system to supply more water, which would save people time and avoid disputes.

Vinh Son parish, with 2,500 Catholics, also does other charitable work. It spends about 120 million dong from the contributions of parishioners during the Lenten season to provide food and medical supplies for the poor, the sick and the needy, most of them non-Catholic.

According to an official from Ho Chi Minh City´s waterworks, about 1,058 million cubic meters of water is used daily in the city. The government is trying to ensure there will be no water shortage during the dry season.

Vietnam is in the midst of a severe drought that is threatening people, animals and crop production in central and southern provinces. With the peak of the dry season still to come, Vietnamese media reports indicate that major reservoirs in the Mekong delta and central regions have already dried out, and delta provinces already are short of water for household and farm use.

END

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