news Published on August 10, 2022

Roundtable on Sustainable Urban Development during the visit of the Mayor of Rotterdam Mr. Ahmed Aboutaleb

On the morning of 27 July 2022, the Dutch Embassy & Consulate General organized a roundtable on sustainable urban development, flooding, climate resilience and land subsidence. The event was organized in close collaboration with the municipalities of Ho Chi Minh City and Rotterdam, and the Dutch Business Association Vietnam DBAV. Mayor of Rotterdam, Mr. Ahmed Aboutaleb, and Vice Mayor of Ho Chi Minh City, Mr. Vo Van Hoan attended the event as guests of honor

Background and context of the morning 

HCMC is a booming city with its many opportunities and challenges. Its dynamic urban life attracts  many companies and migrants. The increasing wealth of its inhabitants also results in different  consumption patterns, habits and needs. Moreover, external changes such as climate change, add to  the complexity of urban management. During this roundtable we will review past cooperation  initiatives of Rotterdam and HCMC on the challenges of flooding and climate change. We will look  forward to opportunities to cooperate on emerging topics such as land subsidence and circular  economy. In both cities, Rotterdam and HCMC, the four topics are critical for urban development. On  all four topics multiple stakeholders are affected, involved or play a role: the government, academia,  private sector and citizens.  

On the topic of flooding, the academics and engineering companies generated information and  designs that feed into policy, urban planning and public works. Some opportunities arise for Public Private Partnerships. Flooding is also related to the topic of climate change. The information  academics and urban designers generated on climate change fed into HCMC’s climate adaptation  strategy, action planning and urban design. Currently, new opportunities to adapt the city arise with  the increase in climate funding. Climate action is closely related to the topic of land subsidence: while  the sea is rising the land is sinking much faster due to groundwater extraction and building. Thus,  spatial planning and urban investments are needed to keep the urban landscape economically  efficient, sustainable, livable and attractive. The overall topic of the discussions is, therefore, the 

balancing of the dynamic urban development, the anthropogenic influences on its environment and  integrated adaptation measures. 

We explore this balancing by reviewing Dutch involvements in flooding, climate change and subsidence. The speakers will present technical and governance challenges as well as integrated  solutions. Speakers thus will reflect on the Science-Policy-Planning-Practice interfaces. 

Opening remarks of Ahmed Aboutaleb

The opening remarks of Ahmed Aboutaleb were words from the heart. Mr Aboutaleb spoke directly to Vice Chairman Hoan: “Leading the city of Ho Chi Minh City, with twelve million citizen, must be a great endeavour. Yesterday when we walked 14.000 steps through the city, we have met with the citizens, from young to old, and we witnessed them talk, eat, interact and pray. Having led the city of Rotterdam for more than 13 years, Mr Aboutaleb said: “The power is not with the national governments, the true power is in the hands of the local governments. The land, the water, the air, its yours. Don’t wait for others to act for you, but see what you can do yourself” Mr Aboutaleb memorized the Rotterdam Nobel Economy Prize Winner XXX, quoting: “Sharing is multiplying. Today, The Netherlands and Vietnam share ideas, opinions, thoughts and expertise.” 

Alwin Commandeur – Royal Haskoning 

Alwin Commandeur, Business Developer Climate Resilience APAC at Royal HaskoningDHV shared more about reducing flood impacts in Ho Chi Minh City. 

Review his presentation here

Kelvin Vuong – Climate Fund Managers 

Kelvin Vuong, Investment Director Vietnam at Climate Fund Managers then spoke about the business of Climate Fund Managers. The funding of CFM consists partly of public concessional capital, which provides risk protection for private funding – the public funding consist of Dutch, EU Funds. Vietnam is the largest country in their global portfolio. 

Review his presentation here

Rien Dam, Delegated Representative Water at RVO spoke about the land subsidence in Ho Chi Minh City

Review his presentation here

Q&A 

Franck Pogade – Green Growth Sector Committee Representative of the European Chamber of Commerce

Mr Pogade reflected on the presentations, and reported increasing concerns from the European businesses at the water working group of the Green Growth Sector Committee. Many of the topics discussed have been a big headache, with flooding being one of the major problems. Companies in affected areas have increasing problems with flooding. Eurocham published a position paper on water in Vietnam. There is a water working group, in the Green Growth sector, which gives a chance to raise the voice. 

Read the position paper from EuroCham here

Mayor Aboutaleb asked Mr Pogade: “are the European companies willing to contribute project finance? And wat do we know about the monetary damage done?”

Frank Pogade responded that EU companies are very prepared to make financial contributions. For example Heineken are doing a lot on water management. But the scale of private contributions is limited. Regarding the damages in terms of EUR. We don’t have a figure. It is a good idea to start estimating that. Frank notes that there is a study on The economic losses, but they refer to poor sanitation, not to climate change.

https://www.wsp.org/sites/wsp/files/publications/44200822740_EAP_ESI_Vietnam_Full.pdf 

Professor Phi then reflected on the questions by saying that the battle to climate change and urban flooding is so far not financially sustainable. This is mostly due to the costs involved with land subsidence. These are billion-dollar projects, for which at present no financing is ready. Professor Phi argued that to engage the private sector you have to show them the benefit.

The moderator of the session Laurent Umans, First Sectetary for Water Management and Climate Change then said that the loss of GDP will be 3-4% if nothing is done on water, especially water treatment.  In the Mekong Delta, the cost of flood is USD 80 million per year. The cost of drought is 1.8 billion per year. Laurent stated that water and climate change are no longer environmental issues. They are at the core of the society now. 

Aboutaleb then went on to talk about the role of the citizens. In Rotterdam, citizens pay 500 euros every year in special designated tax for water. It is used by water boards, to reinforce dykes and work on water management. Citizens accept that. Without these measure, many houses will be flooded. Aboutaleb said that he lives next to a 6 meter high dyke. “We can calculate this easily: if you ask 6 million household, to contribute ten dollar per year. You can use it for the long term, 20-25 years to work on those infrastructures. Creating spaces in the city. You can borrow billions from the World Bank using the tax money as leverage. 

The Vice Mayor responded. “What we would get from the citizens is not enough to solve the issues. The more we get from the World Bank, the more costs. The Vice Mayor highlighted that apart from the financial issue, there is also the operational issue.  The estimation is that at least 7-8 billion dollars is required for the first phase of flood control. Where the money needs to come from, is not from tax, because if you ask the citizens about their willingness to pay, they  refuse. The citizens don’t see that there is an urgency for their livelihood, house and visible assets. Vice Mayor Hoan then continued to propose for a new survey amongst enterprises and citizens: “only if we show the damage that is inflicted by floodings better, we can increase the perception. Without it, we can not make a strategic plan. Hoan said to Mayor Aboutaleb: “I understand your idea and I very appreciate that.” 

Speech of Vice Chairman Hoan 

Mr. Hoan repeatedly complimented the meaningful input and actionable projects. “We are working on the global issues, which are impacting our daily lives of citizens in localities which are affected by climate change. The risk of land subsidence in Ho Chi Minh City is increasingly higher and happening on a daily basis. Hoan met the mayor outside and was talking about HCMC. We have 4 pillars of concern: 

  1. The rainy seasons: 6 months of rain, 6 months of dry. 
  2. Floodings; coming from the Mekong River and the water flowing from China to the sea which affects the sea. 
  3. Tides. Two times of tides per day
  4. Drainage in urban areas, which is not well done right now" 

Vice Mayor Hoan concluded: “we need to create more awareness about special planning. We have to create naturally flooding designated areas in urbanized places. Some of the new urban areas, have to reserve a part for water retention. We have to make the rivers bigger, we have to dredge on and do an embarkment with dykes. We need to encourage developing and renovating and creating artificial channels."

“During my visit to The Netherlands, I learned about solutions that worked there, that can work here in Vietnam. But the government is not the sole performer in this matter. The last point I want to make is Rotterdam and Ho Chi Minh City have a lot of MOUs and sharing sessions. After today meeting I hope that the representatives of Rotterdam can review our ideas of anti flooding of the city because this is a part of the draft masterplan 2024 with a Vision until 2060, to be approved by the Prime Ministe. If the city of Rotterdam could have any opposing ideas, then we could have a look and consider and review those ideas. The design of a riverside urban area is outside of our reach right now in Vietnam because we are a developing country, we would like to see how your ideas are going to be applied. That could possibly be together with a Dutch investor, in conjunction with the government in Vietnam. I hope to see more discussion going forward around this topic.” 

Daniël Stork, Consul General of The Netherlands in Vietnam, then concluded the meeting, by thanking all participants.