A Glimpse at Project Management and Implementation in Vietnam’s Environmental Sector: My Experiences and Observations
Lately, I have been thinking about the project implementation style of my placement organization, CECT. I took a critical look at the long list of the undertakings that we are currently involved in, and something became apparent. The Department of Pollution Treatment and Environmental Improvement (DPTEI) – the department which I work under at CECT – is currently involved in three key projects, all of which share something critical in common. All three undertakings are either pilot projects upon which other similar future projects implemented in Vietnam will be based on or they are projects that are based off of the successful implementation of a similar project (pilot) in the not so distant past.
The first project, the construction of a biological waste water treatment system in Song Cong community, Thai Nguyen province was modelled on a similar biological waste water treatment system of the same scale and technology, which was successfully implemented in a similar community located in Ninh Binh province.
The second project, the implementation of a small scale solar powered desalination and water treatment system in the coastal community of Ca Mau in South Vietnam – if successfully implemented and the expected outcomes generated - will form the basis for the construction of similar solar powered desalination and water treatment systems in twelve other coastal communities in the Mekong River Delta in South Vietnam over the next two years.
The third project, which entails the implementation of an air and coastal water monitoring system in the Ha long bay area of Quang Ninh province to measure air and water pollution resulting from tourism and other anthropogenic factors in the bay area, will give way for the installation of air and coastal water monitoring systems in tourism hubs that are located in coastal areas in Vietnam – provided that the pilot monitoring system fulfils its main purpose.
By my estimation, this approach to project implementation and management is a pragmatic one; one that has served CECT and its responsible authorities very well these past years. This approach of projects implementation goes beyond having “good intentions” and focuses on determining the feasibility of a project and whether it can be scaled up to the communities that actually need them.
What can other public institutions, environmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other development actors learn from CECT’s – if I may - ‘trial based project implementation’ strategy? First, this approach to implementing projects and programs helps institutions in the business of development practice to use their scarce financial and human resources more effectively. Secondly, it helps ensure that the intended goals and objectives of a project or a program are met, and that the project actually helps the intended beneficiaries. Thirdly, this approach averts the risks – both foreseeable and unforeseeable – associated with the implementation of a project or a program to the barest minimum because it gives room for all forms of uncertainty in the project life cycle.
Six Months into my Field Placement: What Comes Next?
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the University of Waterloo Alumni Affairs to be interviewed and included in the student feature for their March newsletter. Some of the questions asked covered my personal experiences in Vietnam, my work experiences, and my future ambitions. I agreed to the interview, and I completed it last week. In the interview, I outlined, in brief detail, some of the most remarkable experiences I have had living in Hanoi and travelling to other parts of Vietnam. I also discussed extensively about the waste water treatment system project that my organization is currently constructing for a peri-urban community called Song Cong in Thai Nguyen province, since Water is the theme for March’s newsletter, and this project coincidentally happens to be one which I ascribe great interest. I will give a quick summary of the waste water treatment project for those who don’t already know.
My organization (CECT) is constructing a wastewater treatment facility in a community of 6000 residents, which will consist of an anaerobic filter technology – primarily underground leach plants – which will naturally treat the wastewater, which in turn is diverted from the treatment system into the adjacent Cong River to be used by rice farmers in the area for irrigation. The construction of this facility is at its early stages and scheduled for completion within a year.
Towards the end of the interview I outlined my plans for the future – immediate and long term. My immediate future career plan – as I mentioned in the interview - is to study Urban Planning at the post graduate level at one of the world’s and Canada’s most reputable universities; something which I will be doing in the fall. I just recently accepted the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) offer of admission to complete a two year MSc. Planning degree (Comparative Development Planning Focus) at the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP). Logically, my long term future career goal – which I also mentioned in the interview – is to become a professional urban planner in Africa. Frankly, this component of the interview got me thinking a great deal about my current professional experience in Vietnam in relation to both my immediate and long term career plans. With regards to my immediate career plan to acquire a Master’s degree in Urban Planning, I began to ask myself whether it would be wise for me to focus my graduate studies at SCARP on the South East Asia region, since I have plans to practice urban planning professionally in Africa. Similarly, I also thought to myself: by focusing my Urban Planning graduate studies at UBC on the South East Asian continent, I would perhaps be making the practical choice in view of my most recent exposure to the culture in that region and the inner workings of the environment policy sector. With regards to my long term career, I began to question the likelihood of my experiences in Vietnam and some other countries South East Asia contributing to my professional career as an urban planner in Africa.
After many hours, days, and weeks spent pondering; I have come to a couple of conclusions. First, there is a lot that Africa can learn from South East Asia, and South East Asia from Africa environmentally, economically, politically, socially speaking or otherwise. I agree that there are no “cookie cutter” solutions to urban challenges facing global Southern countries; what works well for one developing country might not necessarily work well for another for a wide of range of reasons and vice versa. Nevertheless, global Southern countries can learn from each other’s successes and failures in tacking development problems facing their cities, thus proffering better and more sustainable solutions to these urban challenges that are endemic in cities in that geographical classification. In light of this, I have decided that I would be very comfortable focusing my urban planning graduate research project or thesis either on African cities or South East Asian cities. I strongly believe that either of the regions that I decide to base my research on next year will greatly benefit from my working experience in Vietnam, albeit not necessarily with the same degree.
I came to the second conclusion that my training in International Development in addition to my international outlook of the world and the problems facing different regions collectively and individually, will not permit me to work in one region of the developing world alone. In view of this, I have slightly altered my long term future plans to reflect this by aspiring to work on domestic and international planning projects [in] the global South, with the hopes of learning from the successes and failures of every individual project to make other similar projects in the region ultimately successful. Nevertheless, further in the future, I would still like to settle down, practice urban planning, and cut my teeth as a professional urban planner, in Africa. This is mainly because I strongly believe Africa will be the frontier region with the greatest and most exciting opportunities for me practise urban planning and work on remarkable yet “pioneering” infrastructural development projects, in comparison to other regions. Furthermore, I strongly believe that African cities, in the future, could benefit from the wealth of knowledge and development planning experience that I would bring from South East Asia and other subcontinents.
The Focus of IFIs and Development Finance in the 21st Century? Lessons from the World Bank in Vietnam
Lately, I have been looking closely at the role of International Financial Institutions (IFIs), especially the World Bank, and their contributions - if any exists - towards the ‘development’ of low and middle income countries in the last decade. Coincidentally, I met the Country Director of the World Bank in Vietnam, Victoria Kwakwa, during a courtesy visit to her home two weeks ago. She is a Ghanaian national, and was the chief economist for the World Bank in Nigeria. During my visit, we discussed extensively about the pace of ‘development’ generally in the global South and how the World Bank has worked with developing country governments to increase it. We used Vietnam as an example of how the Bank has helped and can help low and middle income countries confront major development challenges.
In general, the “World Bank” - the name generally used to refer to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) - has been criticized for generally financing large scale projects in the energy, mining, and extractive industries that generate adverse environmental and socio-economic impacts in the developing countries where these undertakings are implemented. For a global institution whose mandate is to eradicate all forms of poverty and spur economic growth in developing countries, critics generally contend that the World Bank alienates the very people – low income individuals – it seeks to help, by financing projects that potentially destroy their livelihoods. In Vietnam and middle income countries in South East Asia, the World Bank has typically invested heavily in dam construction and electricity generation which in many cases have resulted in vast displacements of low income rural households, destruction of rural livelihoods, and the destruction of valuable river systems and water resources.
Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that the World Bank has begun to change the focus and criteria of its development finance. My experiences working in Vietnam are in part responsible for my newly developed opinion. Other factors responsible for my current view of the World Bank include its current plans to phase out any investment in fossil fuel generating and environmentally destructive energy and mining projects within the shortest possible time, and requiring environmental assessments and social assessments be conducted for all projects it finances.
Since I started working at the Centre for Environmental Consulting and Technology (CECT) and its parent ministry, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE), I have begun to see the World Bank and its dealings in a more positive light. World Bank has begun to recognize more pressing development challenges like environmental pollution, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change that are facing developing countries like Vietnam; and their implications for overall human development and economic development. In the case of Vietnam, the World Bank has begun to streamline its investments towards targeting biodiversity and climate change. World Bank Vietnam increasingly supports and finances strategic studies and research on the effect of climate change on different sectors of the Vietnam’s economy and society – fitting for a country that is considered one of the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change in the form of sea level rise. World Bank Vietnam in collaboration with UNDP Vietnam are currently financing MONRE’s – and by association – CECT’s undertakings that strengthen biodiversity, increase the capacity of vulnerable local communities to adapt to extreme weather events, and protect sustainable livelihoods; through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) fund. Furthermore, the World Bank Vietnam, in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank and the Vietnamese government, are currently financing the construction of rapid rail systems in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as a climate change mitigation strategy to reduce greenhouse gas production in the two largest urban areas in Vietnam.
What are the lessons here? First and foremost, despite much contention surrounding their main focus and lending practices, IFIs like the World Bank, can serve as vessels for confronting development challenges affecting human development, economic development, and environmental sustainability in a judicious manner – if given the opportunity. Secondly, IFIs have begun to change and adapt to the dynamic nature of ‘development’ by giving priority to socio-economic as well as environmental challenges facing the global South, and attempting to address the environmental and socio economic ramifications of some of the projects that they finance in developing countries. Nevertheless, there is room for considerable improvement in that regard. Thirdly, IFIs provide developing country governments with the finances and the strategic tools – which they lack - to promote sustainable development in their countries. Finally, IFIs like the World Bank are genuine and potentially effective developments agents, and should not be written off completely.
My Professional Experience in Vietnam: Challenges, Constraints, New Developments, and Plans for the Immediate Future.
My work life in Vietnam is continuously evolving, and my academic career has recorded a significant milestone. On the work front, the workload at my organization has been relatively low because majority if not all CECT projects have Vietnamese as the working language. Hence, there has hardly been any opportunity for me to help out on major projects. As a public institution, under the aegis of Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, this is a common phenomenon; therefore it should come as no surprise. As you can imagine, this poses some difficulty on me as well as my superiors, who genuinely want to get me involved in larger undertakings. In response to this, I took it upon myself to respectfully ask my supervisor and point of contact in CECT to reach out to other institutions within the Ministry of Environment, to find other potential avenues – preferably ODA funded programs with English as their working language - where I might prove more valuable. As luck would have it, the Institute of Strategy and Policy on Natural Resources and Environment (ISPONRE), a public institution within the ministry, is in need of a part time English speaking intern who will help formulate environmental policy reports regarding Vietnam for ODA donors and intergovernmental organizations, and have requested my presence at their organization on a per time basis. If everything goes as planned, I will be spending my time between CECT – my current organization – and ISPONRE.
On the academic front, I am currently in the process of applying to different ‘planning’ graduate programs offered by reputable Canadian universities. Last week, I submitted my application to pursue graduate studies in Urban Planning at the School for Community and Regional Planning (SCARP), University of British Columbia. I am also in the process of completing my applications to the Master of Urban Planning program at McGill University and the University of Waterloo. UBC’s SCARP is my first choice because of the school’s international outlook in planning education and towards planning practice. The urban planning program offered at UBC is one of the best in the country. It comes highly recommended by my professor, Dr. Bruce Frayne, who also happened to have spent two decades as an Urban Planner in Africa. I am very optimistic about my chances of getting admitted into the program. Nevertheless, the planning program offered at Waterloo and McGill are strong programs, and I wouldn’t have a problem studying at both schools in the event that I don’t get accepted to UBC.
Why urban planning you might ask? Urban planning because I grew up in the city of Lagos, where daily life is deeply affected by rapid urbanization and the failure of current planning systems and administration to effectively manage that it. Furthermore, growing up in Lagos is fundamental to my subsequent fascination with urban dynamics and processes more generally in the global South. In the event that I receive admission into the urban planning program at SCARP, the focus of my research will be based on the South East Asian subcontinent. The rationale behind this decision is to build on my current professional experience in Vietnam and South East Asia at large and draw connections between these experiences and my personal experiences in Nigeria and West Africa; thus increasing the scope of my knowledge about international development planning issues.
So what are the lessons here? First of all, as development practitioners, it sometimes pays to challenge the status quo in a work environment especially when it hinders one’s own level of productivity. At the same time, challenging the status quo, if it ever becomes a necessary cause of action in the context of development practice, should be done respectfully. Second of all, in the event that one is not content with the amount of work they are assigned in a developing country work setting; one must take the initiative to look for other avenues where their skills might prove useful, even if it means making subtle suggestions to one’s superior or working together with superiors to create new work opportunities. In such situations – as frustrating as they might be - one should never resort to complaining or throwing in the towel. Lastly, in development pedagogy, personal experiences – childhood or professional – do in fact shape our area of research and subsequent career path. Therefore, as development practitioners we should never be afraid to reflect on those experiences and learn from them because, in the end, they will serve as the greatest source of enthusiasm and motivation for whatever theme of development we choose to study and pursue as a career.
The Multidisciplinary Nature of Development Practice
Working at my organization over the past two weeks has been a distinctive yet very interesting experience in comparison to previous weeks; particularly in the area of study and subject matter that my work activities focus on and seek to address. My mandate at CECT has taken a relatively different form by focusing more on the issue of climate change – an issue that I am conversant with - in Vietnam, as well as opportunities for climate change adaptation and mitigation both at a project and policy level in Vietnam. I have always been interested in climate change and how it impacts the pace of development in low and middle income countries – in other words, the nexus between climate change and ‘development’. So you can imagine my utmost delight when I was offered the opportunity to work on two different environmental initiatives that focus on addressing climate change in Vietnam.
The first climate change related undertaking entails working in Ca Mau, a semi urban community located in the Mekong River Delta in South Vietnam, to develop a climate change awareness program for the community members in the area. Ca Mau, in my opinion, is an especially valid candidate for a climate change awareness program in Vietnam because it happens to be the community most vulnerable to sea level rise – a direct effect of climate change – in Vietnam. With regard to program design, I am solely responsible for developing the components of the entire climate change awareness scheme, and eventually facilitating the program during the implementation phase. I believe this speaks to the high level of trust and confidence that my supervisor and co-workers have in my ability as a development practitioner to design and implement development programs – including those that promote climate change adaptation and mitigation. My supervisor has given me two months to come up with a comprehensive project plan for the climate change awareness initiative. On a similar note, I am in the process of conducting extensive baseline research, which will influence the overall direction of the strategy for the climate change awareness scheme.
The second climate change related undertaking – The Japan-Vietnam Cooperation in Greenhouse Gas Inventories - involves me learning about the process of greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, quantification, and analysis using the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Ultimately, the objective of the players – including me - is to use the GHG activity data to prioritize ‘climate change mitigation’ in public policy formulation for GHG generating industries – including Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, and Waste Management. I am currently working under the tutelage of my co-worker, Mrs Van Anh, who also happens to be concurrently pursing her doctoral studies in GHG inventory – specifically in the waste management sector in Vietnam. Interestingly, i am developing a particularly new skill set, one which moves beyond talking about climate change policy from a development based prism; to actually learning about the types greenhouse gases, and how to collect vital activity data on them from different GHG producing sectors.
Both initiatives require ample time to conduct pre implementation activities and planning; as such, I am optimistic that these projects will keep me occupied over the next couple of months. Similarly, these undertakings might shape the composition of my work at CECT over the next six months after all. By the end of my eight months experience working with CECT, I hope to have attained a new skill set – greenhouse gas inventory and quantification - under my belt. Perhaps, it might prove useful for me in my future work place or when I decide to pursue graduate studies – depending on the area of research that I take up.
So what are the lessons here? Firstly, international development is a broad and multidisciplinary field. Therefore, as a development practitioner, one must be open to learning new skills sets particularly in key areas that affect development discourse. Secondly, because of the broad nature of international development, development practitioners like me should focus on acquiring the skills that they deem valuable for the types of development work they are pursing or hope to pursue in the future. Finally, the learning curve is limitless for a development practitioner.
Local Public Institutions & Development - My Field Experience
The last two weeks have been quite eventful at my workplace. Most days in the last two weeks have been spent conducting online research for two environmental projects that my organization is currently pursuing; and as some you might aware that research can sometimes be lacklustre especially when carried out excessively for long periods of time. The first project entails the construction of a waste water treatment facility at Song Cong district, which is located in Thai Nguyen province, Vietnam. The second project entails the construction of a low cost eco-friendly residential community in five or more provinces that are based in South Vietnam. The former is at the project implementation phase; the latter is still at the early planning stages, hence I will share more details about this project in the coming weeks.
With regard to the waste water treatment project, I visited the project site in Thai Nguyen province with my supervisor and some co-workers on two different occasions in the last two weeks. On our first visit, we conducted a survey of the proposed project location; this involved collecting waste water samples and groundwater samples from the area to test for contamination levels – if any, in the case of the groundwater - and assess toxic components. On our second visit, we surveyed households in the surrounding project location, and we visited the local authorities in Song Cong district. In a nutshell, the project in question will focus on building a waste water treatment system with the capacity to treat 750,000 litres of waste water per day for the 1500 households in Song Cong district (1500 households in Song Cong generate 720,000 litres of waste water . Interestingly, the waste water treatment system will make use of natural/biological waste water purifying agents – primarily plant leeches – also called anaerobic technology to filter the 720,000 litres of waste water generated daily in Song Cong. After the waste water has been filtered, the naturally filtered water is then diverted into the adjacent Cong River, which is then used by rice farmers in the area to irrigate their rice crops. This type of waste water treatment initiative is unheard of in Vietnam, and in most parts of the world. Perhaps, in the future, it might be scaled up to other parts of Vietnam.
Based on my critical analysis of the meetings, the field visit, and the project plan; I came to the conclusion that majority of the stakeholders of this project – the households, the rice farmers, and the local authorities – are on board with the construction of the waste water treatment system. For the most part, they are optimistic about the project outcome. Personally, I am fascinated, first and foremost, by the proactive approach that CECT has taken towards tackling a potential waste water pollution crisis in the area. Secondly, I am impressed with the innovative and eco-friendly nature of the waste water system. This project, without a doubt will result in benefits for the groups involved in or impacted by it.
Before I started my internship at CECT, I had no prior experience with environmental projects; neither did I have any prior ‘vast knowledge’ of the waste water treatment process and the technology involved. I only developed some knowledge of waste water treatment and the project at hand while conducting research at my office desk. My knowledge of waste water treatment was very limited and might still be relatively limited. However, after multiple field trips to Thai Nguyen province, the proposed location of the project, that changed. I learnt more about the project and waste water treatment during my field visit than I did while studying the project proposal and conducting online research for long hours.
So what are the lessons here? The first lesson is that field trips are perhaps more effective ways of increasing one’s personal knowledge of relatively new fields – in my case waste water treatment – and new projects, than countless hours of online research. The second and final lesson is never underestimating the institutional capacity of public environmental institutions – like CECT- in low and middle income countries – such as Vietnam – to develop proactive, sustainable, and yet ground-breaking solutions to impending environmental hazards. All too often, the problem solving ability of local institutions – public and private alike – in developing countries are written off in international development discourse.
Working in Hanoi - A Commuter’s Dilemma in a Foreign City
Picture this! A dark skinned Nigerian gentleman in the midst of roughly 150 Vietnamese people all crowded together inside a city bus; and all eyes are gazed toward the Nigerian fellow with ‘astonishment’… You get the picture?!
That ‘prologue’ - if I may - encapsulates my life every morning as I commute to and from work in Hanoi. At first, I felt a tad uncomfortable to say the least. Most of you would agree with me that nobody is used to being stared at collectively by a large group of people for long periods of time. The first few days of commuting were the hardest; but the past two weeks have been better. Let’s just say I adopted a few defensive mechanisms of my own to adapt to the awkward situation. For example, I find that listening to my Ipod on the crowded bus helps turn my attention away from the staring; not necessarily the most security conscious of options, but it works. These days, I generally refuse to let the staring bother me. It goes without saying that I am not highlighting this particular experience in Vietnam in an effort to cast any doubt on the hospitable nature of the Vietnamese people. On the contrary, they are generally nice and easy going people. Some locals actually move beyond that point of astonishment to the point where they walk up to me and attempt to make conversation on the bus. With that being said, I don’t think the locals here are accustomed to seeing people with a dark skinned or coloured phenotype. As such, gazes on the bus or in public places are warranted in my case.
On a different note, the public transit system in Hanoi is similar to what you will find in a high income and developed country-city setting. The public transit system comprises of air conditioned buses. It is very efficient; buses arrive at the bus stops at intervals of 10 to 15 minutes. Transit services are provided to most parts of Hanoi including peripheral areas; thanks to the expansive reach of Hanoi’s transportation corridor. The only major downside to the public transit system in Hanoi, is that some of the buses - most especially the ones that run on major routes - are almost always over-crowded. Hence, long bus rides are always uncomfortable. Up Until two days ago, I used to live in the Ba Dinh district of Hanoi, which is roughly 6km from Long Bien district where my organisation is located. The Long Bien district is separated from the rest of the Hanoi metropolis by the Red River, which Vietnam shares with China. The Long Bien Bridge - the oldest bridge in Hanoi and Vietnam - and the Chương Dương Bridge connect Long Bien district with the rest of Hanoi. It used to take me a little over an hour to get to my office from my old apartment in the morning, and an hour thirty minutes from my office back depending on the level of traffic. Distance aside, the trips were almost never comfortable because the bus were always crowded beyond capacity. I took the conscious decision to find an apartment down-town Hanoi in the Hoan Kiem district because it is 2km away from Long Bien district and roughly ten minutes by bus to and from my office. Most importantly, the bus ride along that route is often less crowded. The upside - I get off the bus not feeling like I just got out of the gym :)
A Typical Week Day in my Life in Vietnam
My life as a white collar working man in Hanoi has been exhilarating for the most part. The past two weeks in Hanoi have been some of the best weeks of my life. Hanoi reminds me a lot of Lagos, but without the cars. Motorcycles are very ubiquitous in Hanoi - everyone has one. Although I romanticize the idea of motorcycle transportation in Hanoi and in other cities of the developing world, motorcycles make crossing the streets of Hanoi very difficult, if not frustrating for strangers to the city. Even after spending 18 years of my life crossing the pedestrian ‘unfriendly’ streets of Lagos, you would think I would have learnt a thing or two about crossing unsafe streets. Getting across the streets of Hanoi was no easy feat for me at first. It takes some getting used to. It takes a great deal of confidence. However, I can gladly say that I have adapted to the streets of Hanoi. I can cross the streets with much ease than I did two weeks before.
As part of the parameters of my mandate in Vietnam, I am required to work with two organizations during my stay here for the next seven months. I work primarily with the Centre for Environmental Consultancy and Technology (CECT) in Hanoi, which is a major subdivision of Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. Occasionally, I work with the Ha Tay Community College located in the Ha Tay province of Vietnam. The Ha Tay province is at least an hour by road from Hanoi. I am required to make monthly trips with other co-interns to Ha Tay to work on the WUSC and Uniterra projects at the college.
Working under the Department of Pollution Treatment and Environmental Improvement (DPTEI) at CECT has been gratifying. My supervisor and my co-workers have been very accommodating. They do everything possible to make my transition into the Vietnamese work environment much easier. In less than two weeks, I have quickly established friendships with almost all my co-workers. During our lunch breaks we either eat together in the office dining area or we go out to lunch together. We also take tea breaks together, during which my supervisor and my co-workers try to improve my Vietnamese vocabulary and pronunciations. It is amazing how much my supervisor and my co-workers are willing to learn about my family background, travel experiences, and most of all, football. Saying you are Nigerian in Vietnam is almost always begets the question: Are you a football player? Football always seems to find a way into the dialogue every time i introduce myself as a Nigerian to most Vietnamese.
Since I started my internship at CECT a week ago, the focus of my job responsibilities so far have been proposal writing and editing. My point of contact in CECT, Mrs Thanh, and I have been working closely on the project proposal for an environmental undertaking in the Ha Dong District of Hanoi. The details of this project cannot be outlined in this report at this time, considering the limited word count. We are required to submit the proposal to the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives in Vietnam 2012-2013, the proposed donor for the project by October 10th. The Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives in Vietnam 2012-2013 is a development assistance project that is administered by the Embassy of Canada in Hanoi. I have been tasked with proof reading and editing translations of the proposal from Vietnam to English, to ensure that it is free of grammatical errors. I have also been required to suggest areas for improvement in the project implementation plan based on my stint proposal writing experience in INDEV 212 - Problem Solving for Development. I am responsible for ensuring that the project proposal meets the basic requirements provided by the Embassy of Canada, Hanoi.
Last week Tuesday, I paid my first official visit to the Ha Tay Community College, accompanied by WUSC Vietnam officials and volunteers. During the duration of our visit, which lasted three hours, we met with various key administrative officials of the Ha Tay Community College to conduct a ‘needs assessment’ of the community college. After the needs assessment was carried out, members of the WUSC team and I came to the conclusion that the community college was lacking the necessary volunteer and communication support for alumni affairs, which in turn was affecting alumni engagement in the community college. We were given until October 15th to come up with a sustainable framework for effective alumni engagement for the Ha Tay Community College. Our meeting with the college administration was followed by a private luncheon, which was organized by the college’s administration to host the WUSC team. The luncheon involved lots of eating and drinking, which is typical in most work luncheons in Vietnam. The WUSC team and I were all treated to copious amounts of ‘Vodka Hanoi.’ And the rest as they say is history.
Hanoi, My Newfound Love
I am sorry it has taken me this long to update you on my experiences in Vietnam since i arrived exactly one week ago. I know you all have waited in anticipation; and I thank you for your utmost patience. Living in Vietnam has been an exciting experience. Hanoi, the capital city, where I am currently based, has so much to offer visitors or ‘New Hanoians’ like me. Hanoians are quite friendly and very hospitable. They are always willing to lend a helping hand.
The built environment in Hanoi is relatively similar to Lagos. Hanoi and Lagos both possess colonial legacies, which are characterized by the colonial architecture present in the two cities. The streets of Hanoi are reminiscent of the busy streets of Lagos, where different types of activities occur: including but not limited to commercial activities, social activities, and the movement of people and goods. Hanoi has as many palm trees as Lagos.
Aside from some of the most obvious differences for example that Lagos is a coastal city and Hanoi is not, and that Lagos has a higher population than Hanoi; many other stark disparities come to mind. Hanoi is a relatively cleaner city with fairly effective solid waste management system. Hanoi has numerous French colonial buildings, and it is evident that a lot of time is invested in preserving the French colonial ambiance. Hanoi boasts of network of alleyways and narrow streets that connect old streets with new ones. Hanoi boasts of a variety of lakes and botanical gardens, which are heavily frequented by locals and tourists. The most common means of transportation in Hanoi is the use of motorcycles. People of all social strata in Hanoi own motorcycles. It gives the impression that Hanoi has a ‘burgeoning middle class’ because everyone owns and can afford to buy a motorcycle. I am yet to ride a motorbike in Hanoi, but I foresee myself doing that in the nearest future. Don’t fret people!
Hanoi has a large variety of restaurants and street food vendors serving a wide array of local Vietnamese delicacies and Western delicacies. I have eaten at some of these restaurants, some of which have come highly recommended by locals and short term visitors in Hanoi. For the most part, I am impressed by the kinds of food served, the quality of service, and the affordability of the restaurants here. The baked goods here are to die for; I can confidently say that I bought the best croissant that I have ever had in my life from a local bakery located on a street corner in Hanoi. The French definitely left their mark in Hanoi. Overall, the cost of living is very affordable to say the least, even by Lagos standards. I have fallen in love with this city called Hà Nội. The food, the culture, the people, the built environment, and the affordability make it difficult not to love Hanoi. I foresee the remainder of my stay in Vietnam being a very eventful one.
Curitiba, Brazil: A model for sustainable urban development
I am a strong supporter of the concept of a planned transportation system, and its implementation in cities all over the world. As most of you know, cities are hubs for greenhouse gas generating activities such as, road transportation (cars), energy consumption, and industrialization. Moreover, car emissions represent a considerable proportion of the greenhouse gases that are emitted in cities.
Investment in a planned public transportation system within cities is often cited as a way, to reduce the level of emissions generated by fossil fuel combustive cars, which contribute to climate change; and promote sustainable urban development within cities. This is because the concept of a planned public transportation system in a city ensures that a city and its master plan are pedestrian oriented and not car oriented. Subsequently, this limits urban sprawl into the urban periphery and facilitates sustainable growth in the urban core region.
Curitiba, located in Brazil, is a classic example of a major city where the concept of a planned transportation system has been successfully implemented. Curitiba is often mentioned as a model of sustainable urban development that other cities should follow. In the late 1960’s, Curitiba began adopting policies that prohibited cars in certain areas of the city with high pedestrian traffic, and started making enormous investments in public bus rapid transit schemes. Today, Curitiba has a planned transportation system, which has designated lanes on major streets dedicated to the bus rapid transit system that is used by over two million people per day. Majority of the buses used in the bus rapid transit system are bi-articulated and stop at designated elevated tubes, complete with disabled access.
Curitiba’s investments in its planned transportation system and sustainable development has generated positive results for the most part. For example, car traffic in Curitiba has decreased by 30 percent in last two decades, in spite of the increasing level of population growth recorded in Curituba in the last twenty years. As a result, the levels of both greenhouse gas emitted and atmospheric pollution in Curitiba have reduced to an all time low. Also, Curitiba’s down-town core is heavily pedestrianised, and it boasts of the largest down-town pedestrianised shopping area in the World. Consequently, 99 percent of the residents of Curitiba want to live in Curitiba; and 70 percent of the residents of Sao Paulo, Brazil - a neighbouring city - want to live in Curitiba.
Fellow readers, the key question remains what knock on effects will this level of investment in a planned transportation system have on Curitiba’s ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change effects in the 21st century? Although Curitiba, without question, sets the trend for other cities to follow in terms of sustainable urban development; do you think Curitiba’s planned transportation model is feasible? and can it be adopted in other cities across the world?
Unequal Urban Spatial Landscape - The legacy of colonial governance in African cities
During the colonial era, African cities such as Cape Town, Lagos, Lusaka, and Dar es Salaam served as key administrative capitals for the colonial outfit that controlled the entire African continent, its people, and its resources. During much of the colonial experience in Africa, racial planning frameworks were adopted in most African countries as control mechanisms used to exert European dominance over the African population, and consequently, the legacies of such frameworks are present in many African cities presently.
One of the main legacies of colonial governance in most African cities is the unequal urban spatial landscapes. As part of the colonial strategy to exert dominance over colonial subjects, colonial authorities - using discriminatory planning agenda - created what was called sanitary zones around key residential areas and commercial areas, to prevent colonial subjects from settling in that part of city that was predominantly occupied by colonial officers. Satellite towns were created outside of core regions in African cities for colonial subjects could to settle.
In most African cities during much of the post-colonial era, Local elites occupied most of the residential areas previously occupied by colonial authorities. Also, low income individuals inhabited most of the satellite towns located in the urban periphery.
Overtime, many satellite towns in most African cities have experienced the growth of informal settlements within and around them for two main reasons. The first reason is the continuous influx of poor migrants into urban centres in search of economic opportunities; poor migrants - with no housing and financial security - eventually create illegal settlement around satellite towns. The second reason is the implementation of haphazard planning frameworks by African governments in the post-colonial era, which for the most have failed to control the pace and type of development going on with African cities. Today, majority of the population - largely low income individuals- in most African cities reside both in informal settlements and semi-informal settlements. For example, the city of Cape Town was colonized by Great Britain up until 1948, experienced apartheid rule by the Afrikaans from 1948 till 1994, and had its coloured population subject to a number of racially prejudiced planning laws -The Housing Act of 1920, the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923, the Slums Act of 1934, and the Group Areas Act of 1950 - during both periods. Coloured individuals in Cape Town were forcefully resettled in newly created mono racial housing estates - also called black townships - that were located on the outskirts of the Cape Town metropolis. Overtime, a series of slum settlements have developed within and around the black townships. With that being said, the level of inequality in the urban spatial landscape is currently evident in Cape Town’s urban morphology. The municipal government of Cape Town currently estimates that there are exactly 230 informal settlements in the City of Cape Town accommodating nearly half of the city’s households, majority of which are coloured households. Since the end of apartheid, municipal authorities have adopted new planning frameworks called Integrated Development Plans to reintegrate Cape Town and other South African cities whose urban morphologies were largely segregated and unequal. Thus far, Integrated Development Plans have experienced very limited success in facilitating reintegration in Cape Town.
The unequal urban spatial landscape is indicative of the income inequity that is inherent in the milieu of most African, Asian, and Latin American cities. Nonetheless, the key question remains, what can be done to counteract the inequality that exists in the urban morphology of the cities of the developing world?
Fellow readers, what are your thoughts on this issue? Feel free to share them in the comments section.
Vietnam and Foreign Aid - A critical assessment
Since the Vietnamese government implemented its economic renovation policy also known as the Doi Moi in the late 80’s, Vietnam has recorded a considerable amount of economic growth and human development. Poverty in Vietnam has been alleviated significantly in the last two decades.
Interestingly, Vietnam’s economic rapid economic growth and human development has also been accompanied by a rapid increase in the amount of foreign aid that it receives. The World Bank estimates that Vietnam’s total official development assistance (ODA) – including interest free loans and grants – has grown from $700 million in 1993 to $14 billion in 2010. In contrast, the amount of foreign aid receipts in many south East Asian countries has declined. This goes without stating that Vietnam is not considered an ‘aid dependent’ state as aid only accounts for 15 percent of the Vietnamese government’s expenditure.
Vietnam receives foreign aid directly from Western countries such as Canada, Australia, Denmark, and United Kingdom. However, a considerable portion of Vietnam foreign aid come from Japan, the World Bank - through the International Development Association (IDA)-, and the Asian Development Bank. For example, 80 percent of aid including net loans and grants in 2004 came from these three donors. The World Bank estimates that Vietnam has received a total of approximately $9.7 billion in interest free loans and grants from the IDA alone, the second largest provider of aid to Vietnam after Japan. Most of the foreign aid that Vietnam receives are invested in key areas of development such as education, power generation, and transportation. Also, most of the aid that Vietnam receives is focused on local capacity building in these critical sectors.
After assessing the pace of Vietnam’s economic growth and human development, irrespective of the amount of aid it receives, I think Vietnam might perhaps go from an aid recipient country to a donor country in the future; especially if it continues to follow China’s economic model or a similar model that prioritizes economic growth and human development. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether Vietnam’s development aid either increases or decreases in coming years. I believe the former will most likely be the case, if the percentage of government expenditure that comes from development aid continues to decrease overtime.
What are your thoughts on the current state of development aid in Vietnam? And what do you think is going to happen to the amount of foreign aid transfers to Vietnam going into the future?
Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I look forward to reading them