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Modernization of the waterway in the Red River delta: a major project at the heart of Sustainable Development Objectives

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  • Project initiator :  La Compagnie Nationale du Rhône
  • Partners: Tractebel Engineering France and VIPO (Vietnamese engineering contractor)
  • Duration of the project: 6 years (2011-2017)
  • Cost of project: 229 millions of dollars, financed by the World Bank (under the project management of the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport)

Context of how the project emerged:

Rivers are a structuring element in the history, development and identity of cities and territories. Any project to develop a river, whether to produce hydraulic energy, transport goods, provide drinking water or irrigate agricultural land, marks its course, shapes the landscape and influences the relationship between people and the environment. Therefore a waterway and a port are not only technical infrastructures; their creation and their sustainability require to reconcile economic relevance, environmental preservation and social acceptability, on a territorial scale, and to adopt a broad vision of the stakes and multi-uses of the river.

The vast program to modernize the waterway in the Red River delta in Vietnam, for which CNR (Compagnie Nationale du Rhône) contributed its expertise in river engineering, is a perfect illustration of a partnership project, with multiple challenges and designed within the framework of Sustainable Development Objectives.


Strategy and objectives

This waterway modernization project covered a wide area, including the two main branches of the Red River Delta, from a point 65 km upstream from Hanoi to the China Sea

The sectors concerned are:

  • Viet Tri – Hanoi – Nam Dinh – Lach Giang (250 km)
  • Viet Tri – Hanoi – Hai Phong (215 km)
  • With 2 industrial ports (Viet Tri et Ninh Phuc)

The main objectives were:

  1. Improving and securing navigation conditions in the delta
  2. Facilitating access to ports for greater economic performance and modernizing them by integrating criteria for reducing polluting emissions

The work (meander bypass channel, bank rescindage, deep-sea dredging, etc.) involved some thirty sites. They also concerned the construction of a sea access structure in the estuary of the Ninh Co River, as well as the modernization of the industrial port of Viet Tri and the construction of a new public commercial port on the Day River.

From the design phase to the construction phase, CNR carried out this project by taking into account various criteria – technical, environmental and social – and by placing the right cursor between international standards, Vietnamese regulations and the reality of the terrain.



The project’s innovative characteristics


Environmental protection was a constant priority.

At each phase of the project, CNR has ensured the implementation of the environmental measures contained in the Environmental Management Plan and a good coordination with the construction companies. Adaptations were made, depending on the sites, via the Site Environmental Management Plans (SEMP).


During the design phase, the project was developed by CNR in order to mitigate damage to agricultural land and limit the number of displaced people. Listening and taking into consideration local needs were two guidelines in its implementation. For example, the work schedule took into account the rhythm of rice cultivation; when agricultural land could not be preserved, measures to support families living from agriculture and having to be expropriated were proposed by the authorities, in accordance with World Bank criteria and Vietnamese standards: compensation, provision of other land, training for a new profession.

Finally, attention was also paid to the religious heritage very present in the work zone: avoidance of cemeteries and preservation of a religious building, relocation of an altar in consultation with the local population.


Safety at work

A general safety management plan was put in place during the design phase and then adapted by the public works companies on the various sites. Site safety was monitored by both the site engineers and the safety coordinator. All of them have been trained, along with the workers, in the safety standards applicable on construction sites.

CNR supported this safety component with a health component: it set up and led a vast HIV and STD prevention and control plan for construction site workers and neighboring communities, in partnership with a local NGO.


Results and perspectives

The short-term benefits have been numerous, resulting from both the work and the way in which it has been carried out:

  • Reduction of the environmental footprint of the new infrastructures: the reconfiguration of the ports (thanks to the installation of wastewater treatment systems, the construction of storage sheds, etc.) has reduced by 20% their liquid and dust pollutant emissions.
  • Capacity building through the partnership with local companies and the training of workers, who often have little experience in the river sector, in safety rules at work.
  • Social acceptability: the common will for dialogue between the national authorities, the project team, the funder and the local populations was a key factor in its success.

Technology transfer and capacity building are benefits that will be long term.

At the end of 2020, the Ministry of Transport of Vietnam launched the last phase of the project, concerning a connecting channel between two arms of the river, a lock and a road bridge.




The partnership project to modernise the waterway in the Red River delta was presented at a conference “Water at the heart of change. Accelerating towards Sustainable Development Goals” organized by AFD, CNRS and FWP in June 2019 in Paris.

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