Mekong Delta (about 3 hours south of Saigon) is huge delta created by massive amounts of silt, some of it originating in the Himalayas, carried downstream by the Mekong River and deposited in southernmost part of Vietnam, where the great river empties into the South China Sea. About 10,000 square kilometers of the delta are under rice cultivation, making the area one of the major rice-growing regions of the world. The southern tip, known as the Ca Mau Peninsula (Mui Bai Bung), is covered by dense jungle and mangrove swamps.

The Mekong Delta is a low-level plain not more than three meters above sea level at any point and crisscrossed by a maze of canals and rivers. So much sediment is carried by the Mekong's various branches and tributaries that the delta advances sixty to eighty meters into the sea every year despite waves, typhoons and tides that gobble it up. An official Vietnamese source estimates the amount of sediment deposited annually to be about 1 billion cubic meters, or nearly 13 times the amount deposited by the Red River.

Flat, hot and green, the Mekong Delta is Vietnam's most important agricultural region. Much of the area is covered by rice paddies that are irrigated by delta water and fertilized by delta silt. Many paddies and farms produce three crops of rice a year, enough to feed the entire country, with some left over to export, Almost half of Vietnam’s exported rices comes from the Mekong Delta. Other products from the region include sugar cane, coconuts, pumpkins, various kinds of fruit, fish and snakes. There also large numbers of catfish and shrimp farms.

The delta covers an area of about 40,150 square kilometers (15,500 square miles), half of it under cultivation, and home to a fifth of Vietnam’s 80 million people. Many people get around by boat and Mekong taxis (wagons pulled by motorcycles) and live in villages and towns, some of which have floating markets, along the and small rivers that lace the delta. Many boats are manned by women in conical hats who stand up when they row. Women also dominate the markets and trade.

The Mekong Delta wasn’t really inhabited until the 19th century. During the Vietnam War it was where most many of U.S. army’s infamous Search and Destroy missions took place.

The level of the water varies according to daily tides, dredging operations and seasonal variations (ranging from 38,000 cubic meters a second in September to 1900 feet a second in April). Birdlife, including ibises, storks and spoonbills, is plentiful and saltwater crocodiles are found in the southern part of delta. During the rainy season there can be big floods. Sometimes the roadbeds are the only high ground in huge lakes.

Before the Mekong River enters Vietnam it follows a pretty direct course but after it enters Vietnam it begins meandering and spreading out. It enters the country as two channels which the Vietnamese call Tien Giang (Upper River) and Hau Giang (Lower River). As it moves along it branches out further. By the time it reaches the South China Sea it has seven main branches. Two others have silted over. The Vietnamese, mindful than nine is an auspicious number, call these branches the Nine Dragons.

Connecting and running off of these branches are streams and canals, which together have an estimated length of 3,600 kilometers—almost the length of the Mekong River itself—and are crossed by fragile-looking bridges made of bamboo and mangrove branches lashed together with vines. In southern part of the delta is the U Minh Forest, an extensive area of mangroves and swamp forest, where an extremely rare Javan rhinoceros was discovered in the late 1990s. Large parts of forest have been deforested and transformed into shrimp farms.

Agricultural Importance of the Mekong Delta

Katie Padilla wrote in an ICE Case Studies: The Mekong Delta is critical to the livelihoods and food security of millions of people in Vietnam. 22 percent of the population of Vietnam lives in the Mekong Delta, which is a high population density area of about 17 million people (Yun). Agriculture is a primary source of livelihood in the Mekong Delta, where roughly half of the total amount of food in Vietnam is produced (ICEM, 7). A large volume of the agricultural output of the Mekong Delta is exported throughout Southeast Asia, making it a crucial agricultural source for other countries in the region as well (ICEM, 59).[Source: Katie Padilla, American University, ICE Case Studies, Number 265, December, 2011]

The Mekong Delta is critically important to Vietnam’s national agricultural production. According to Can Tho University estimates, the Mekong Delta produces 50 percent of the nation’s rice, 80 percent of the nation’s fruit, and 60 percent of the nation’s fish, making it the largest agriculture and aquaculture production region in Vietnam (ICEM, 37). Overall, 46 percent of the total amount of food produced in Vietnam comes from the Mekong Delta (ICEM, 7). Agriculture is a crucial source of livelihood for the residents of the Mekong Delta, particularly rice cultivation, which is the primary livelihood for 60 percent of the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta (Käkönen, 206).

The agricultural output of the Mekong Delta supports the population of numerous other countries in the region in addition to Vietnam’s population. According to a National Intelligence Council (NIC) Conference Report from January 2010, Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter, and the Mekong Delta produces the overwhelming majority of Vietnam’s rice exports (CENTRA Technology, Inc. and Scitor Corporation, 14). “As well as being the “food basket” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta region also provides more than 80 per cent of total rice exports – an important contribution to the food security across the region” (ICEM, 59).

The agricultural output of the Mekong Delta supports the population of numerous other countries in the region in addition to Vietnam’s population. According to a National Intelligence Council (NIC) Conference Report from January 2010, Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter, and the Mekong Delta produces the overwhelming majority of Vietnam’s rice exports (CENTRA Technology, Inc. and Scitor Corporation, 14). “As well as being the “food basket” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta region also provides more than 80 per cent of total rice exports – an important contribution to the food security across the region” (ICEM, 59).

The Mekong Delta represents the largest scale of irrigation areas in the region, and the high agricultural output of the Mekong Delta translates into a substantial source of economic output for Vietnam as well. The Mekong Delta contributes 27 percent of Vietnam’s GDP according to the 2009 Mekong Delta Climate Change Forum Report (ICEM, 59). As such, the agricultural output of the Mekong Delta is not only crucial to the food security of numerous countries in Southeast Asia, but also an important component of Vietnam’s GDP.

Vietnam's 'Food Bowl'—the Mekong Delta—under Stress

The Mekong Delta is regarded at the breadbasket of Vietnam. In recent years the region has come under stress from problems such as over-exploitation and salt-water intrusion. In 2005, Tran Dinh Thanh Lam wrote in the Inter Press Service, “Vietnam's ecologically sensitive wetlands, which produce much of the country's food staples, including rice, fish and fowl, are now beginning to suffer the effects of over-exploitation. "Environmental protection and economic development sometimes contradict each other," Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) Pham Khoi Nguyen said recently, spelling out the government's dilemma. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Inter Press Service, September 22, 2005]

“But Nguyen indicated that the time had come for drastic measures to be taken to protect a vast region of shimmering paddies and mudflats, stretching from the Red River valley in the north to the Mekong Delta in the south, which not only "play a crucial role in ensuring the national food supply but (are) also home to delicate ecosystems''. "The trend of making quick money by tapping wetland resources in Vietnam is threatening the country's environment," Nguyen stressed. One-fifth of Vietnam's 78 million population makes a living by exploiting 10 million ha (hectares) of wetland areas for growing rice and aquaculture.

Much of Vietnam's largest wetland area lies in the Mekong Delta in the south, with its elaborate network of river channels and vast areas of rice paddies, mangrove and melaleuca forests, tidal mudflats and shrimp and fish ponds. But rapid demographic development has resulted in greater demand for food, which in turn forced farmers to reclaim vast areas of wetlands by cutting down mangrove and melaleuca trees for charcoal, firewood and timber. At Can Gio wetland, 50 kilometers southeast of Ho Chi Minh City for instance, 400,000 ha of mangroves are now under threat from illegal salt farming and shrimp breeding. "Last year, there were 123 violations of reserve regulations - most were for illegal aquaculture activities," Nguyen Van Thanh, deputy head of the forests' management board, told IPS. "These illegal farms caused the destruction of 2.6 ha, and thousands of mangrove trees in the reserve have been cut down." Can Gio has been named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) biosphere reserve, and any attempt to farm, to take fish or wood from the reserve is illegal. Like in other national parks and reserves in the country, some Can Gio people are allowed to live and farm in buffer zones that separate the reserve from the surrounding region. They are not permitted to carry out any production activities in the reserve.

Mekong Delta Threatened by Rising Seas

Reporting from Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta, Kit Gillet wrote in The Guardian, “The vast, humid expanse of the delta is home to more than 17 million people, who have relied for generations on its thousands of river arteries. But rising sea water caused by global warming is now increasing the salt content of the river water and threatening the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers and fishermen. [Source: Kit Gillet, The Guardian, August 21, 2011 :::]

A one-meter rise in sea levels could leave a third of the Mekong Delta underwater and lead to mass internal migration and devastation in a region that produces nearly half of Vietnam's rice. "If there was a one-meter rise, we estimate 40 percent of the delta will be submerged," says Tran Thuc, director general of the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment. "There is also the threat of cyclones and storms linked to climate change. The people in this area are not prepared for any of this."

“Already affected by regular flooding, those who live in the low-lying delta are focusing on the rising salt content of water in land that has for thousands of years been used for rice paddies, coconut groves and other crops which locals rely on for their livelihood. Government officials and international observers are predicting significant lifestyle changes for the delta's population, which will be forced to adapt to survive. :::

Dao Xuan Lai, head of sustainable development at the United Nations Development Programme in Vietnam, said: "Rising sea waters will cause inundations to the Mekong and will require drastic changes in lifestyles for the people. They will be forced to switch crops and innovate. People close to river banks and river mouths have already had to find different ways to make a living in fresh water." Tough decisions are going to become more common for Mekong residents in the years ahead as the environment changes around them. "Even if we stop all emissions worldwide now, the water will still rise 20 to 30 centimetres in the next few decades," said the UN's Lai. "At the moment the prediction is a rise of 75 centimetres by 2050. People in this region are still very poor and will need help from the international community to survive this." :::

Salt Water Intrusion in the Mekong Delta

According to World Bank: In 1999, agriculture in the Mekong Delta accounted for 30 percent of Vietnam’s GDP and more than 80 percent of its rice exports. However, without appropriate infrastructure, the delta’s many canals and irrigation networks were vulnerable to salt water intrusion from the South China Sea during the dry season, threatening land arability, and to flooding during the rainy season, putting harvests in danger. Poor drinking water supplies and inadequate rural transport also held down production levels and rural incomes.

Water with 4 percent salinity has encroached by 40-50 kilometers far into the Mekong Delta. In February 2013, reported: “In Soc Trang province, drought and salinity both have seriously affected the agricultural production, damaging tens of thousands of hectares of the winter-spring rice fields in the areas bordering Bac Lieu province. More than 20,000 hectares of rice fields in some communes along the Long Phu – Tiep Nhat canal have been in the danger of getting suffered from the drought and saltwater intrusion. [Source:, February 28, 2013 /:]

“Local authorities have affirmed that the saltwater intrusion this year may be the most severe in the history, following the last small flood season and the strong northeast wind. Since mid February 2013, it has been unable to find fresh water at the river mouths, just 30 kilometers from the sea. Meanwhile, scientists have warned that in March, April and May, the coastal areas may lack freshwater for daily lives. According to the Ben Tre provincial Center for Hydrometeorology Forecast, on Cua Dai River, the salinity has reached 27 ‰ -30 ‰ in Binh Dai district, 13 ‰ -16 ‰ in Loc Thuan, 2 ‰ -3,5 ‰ in Long Hoa. On the Ham Luong River, the salinity is as high as 27 ‰ -30 ‰ in An Thuan, 0.1 ‰ -1 ‰ in Vam Mon. Local authorities have been hurrying taking actions to protect over 64,500 hectares of the winter-spring crop rice fields and 25,000 hectares of aquatic ponds. /:\

“Under the climate change and sea water rise scenario, if the sea water rises by 30 cm, 50,000 hectares of agricultural land in Mekong Delta would suffer from the saltwater intrusion, which means that the delta would lose up to 120,000 tons of rice. In the worst case, the mangrove area may be larger of up to 500,000 hectares, farmers would lose one million tons of rice. In fact, local farmers have been familiar with the salinity intrusion over the last many years. Coping with the salinity intrusion has always been very important for the survival of the agricultural production in the area.” /:\

Salt Intrusion in Ben Tre and Binh Thanh

Reporting from Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta, Kit Gillet wrote in The Guardian, “Sitting amid buckets of rice in the market, Nguyen Thi Lim Lien issues a warning she desperately hopes the world will hear: climate change is turning the rivers of the Mekong Delta salty. "The government tells us that there are three grams of salt per litre of fresh water in the rivers now," she says. "Gradually more and more people are affected. Those nearest the sea are the most affected now, but soon the whole province will be hit." [Source: Kit Gillet, The Guardian, August 21, 2011 :::]

According to the Ben Tre department of agriculture and rural development, salt water at four parts per thousand has, as of April, reached as far as 35 miles inland, causing significant damage to crops and livestock, with rice production particularly affected. "Salination will become higher and higher and the salt season will last longer and be worse," predicts Thuc.The city of Ben Tre, one of the gateways to the Mekong, is inland, on one of the many tributaries of the Mekong river where the waters are still only partially affected by the increased salination. But further downriver, the effects are more pronounced. "I have to travel five hours upstream by boat to fetch water for drinking, washing and cooking," says Vo Thi Than, 60, who cannot afford the prices charged by those who travel down the river selling fresh water from upstream. :::

“Than lives beside a dock and runs a little restaurant on the small delta island of Cu Lao Oc, home to approximately 6,000 farmers and coconut growers. "A long time ago, there was no salty season at all. Now, five months a year the water is salty," she says. "We grow oranges, mandarins, lemons and coconuts, but these trees cannot survive if it is salt water only. During salty seasons, the trees bear less fruit and smaller fruits, and if there was only the salt season, nothing would grow." :::

John Ruwitch and Ho Binh Minh of Reuters wrote: “About a year ago some farmers from Binh Thanh commune in Vietnam's southern rice growing heartland suspected the worst — that their irrigation water had become too salty. They telephoned Vo Thanh, the head of An Giang province's hydro-meteorology center, and he came to take water samples from the commune, which is about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the sea. The farmers' hunch turned out to be right. The brackish water would damage their crops, so Thanh advised officials to tell farmers to stop pumping it into their rice fields immediately. Not everyone took heed. "Those who didn't suffered losses," Thanh said. "Some 4,000 hectares (9,880 acres) of rice were damaged." [Source: John Ruwitch and Ho Binh Minh, Reuters, December 9, 2012]

“Thanh had seen salty irrigation water before, but never so far inland from the sea. What was troubling about Binh Thanh's case, though, was not the salt. It was that the problem was caused by an increasingly complex network of dykes and sluice gates built precisely to prevent salination, he said. "The other gates were closed to keep fresh water in, so the salty water flowed there," he said.

“For places like Binh Thanh commune, environmental challenges will only increase. But the action-reaction cycle of change and responses will play itself out, as it has in the flood-prone region for centuries. Le Van Banh, a rice exert at the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute, says the salty water situation will worsen — but researchers are creating new strains of rice that can withstand ever saltier water. Standing by his muddy fields that yield three rice crops a year, farmer Nguyen Van Banh poked holes in a paddy dyke with a staff and planted beans with his wife.”

See Agriculture

Efforts to Combat Salt Water Intrusion in the Mekong Delta reported: “Experts have suggested changing the crop seasons, cultivation techniques and plant varieties, and utilizing the plant varieties with high salinity resistance, emphasizing that these are the measures to optimize the use of agriculture land. Pham Thanh Vu, MA, from the Can Tho University, believes that the rotational rice cultivation & shrimp hatchery model should be applied to the areas with the long salinity intrusion time and high salinity. The areas with the salinity intrusion duration of more than seven months a year should turn into shrimp farming areas. [Source:, February 28, 2013 /:]

“Meanwhile, the 3-crop would still be applied in the areas which have embankments to prevent the salt intrusion, or have irrigation works to provide fresh water. Diversifying plantations to make it suitable to the different conditions of the land areas has been considered the long term solution to get adapted to the climate change. In Soc Trang province, for example, farmers have been using the high salinity resistance rice varieties in the rotational crop model. However, experts say the model would be helpful in the areas with the low land salinity. It may happen that when farmers try to rescue rice fields by blocking water inlet sluice, this would lead to the lack of salt water for shrimp. “ /:\

The International Development Association (IDA) supported Mekong Delta Water Resources Project sought to develop water control infrastructure to prevent salinity intrusion and promote irrigation, drainage, flood protection and improved rural drinking water supplies. Five subproject areas covering more than 500,000 hectares were targeted to boost agricultural productivity and rural incomes. Results: Freshwater supplies for irrigation were substantially improved along with the ability to control salinity and floods in the delta. An IDA credit of US$102 million financed a bit more than two-thirds of the total project cost of US$148 million.[Source: World Bank]

Highlights: 1) About 1 million people were expected to benefit from project expansion of clean water supplies and improvements in sanitation facilities, with the connection rate to potable water sources increasing from 30–40 percent of the population living in the delta in 1999 to 75 percent at the end of 2007. 2) Farmers’ incomes doubled on average between 1999 and 2007, from VND 300,000 (less than US$500) to VND 625,000 (about US$1,000). 3) Crop productivity has risen, with the average yield for double rice cropping increasing from 4.7 tons/hectare in 1999 to 5.3 tons/hectare in 2007. 4) Sluice gates have helped contain seasonal floods to allow farmers to complete their harvest. Forty-one main sluice gates and 125 secondary sluice gates have been built. Over 1,000 kilometers of primary and secondary canals were also dredged and enlarged. 5) To protect towns from floods, 234 kilometers of dikes were constructed. 6) The delta is now better prepared to withstand rising sea levels and catastrophic weather. 7) The doubling of water fee collections envisaged by the project did not occur: a government decree has exempted all farmers and individuals from paying water fees since January 2008.

The project’s impact will be sustained, provided proper attention is paid to operation and maintenance of infrastructure. Because of the decision to exempt farmers from water service fees, heavy subsidies will be needed to maintain the newly created infrastructure. On the other hand, farmers whose livelihoods depend on irrigation and drainage are likely to continue to use the new facilities effectively. Further investments in sea dikes and sluices could help the delta cope with the effects of climate change (droughts, floods and rising sea levels). Investment in agricultural processing, marketing and information technology could help maximize the impact of irrigation infrastructure.

Salt Intrusion Caused Mekong Delta Rice Farmers to Take Up Risky Shrimp Farming

Kit Gillet wrote in The Guardian, “In the area around the town of Ba Tri, near one mouth of the delta, the salination of the water has reached a point where many locals have been forced to abandon centuries of rice cultivation and risk their livelihoods on other ventures, mostly farming shrimp, which thrives in saltier water. Pham Van Bo is still able to plant rice on half his land thanks to an embankment built by the government four years ago, but he is risking his family's savings on the new venture. [Source: Kit Gillet, The Guardian, August 21, 2011 :::]

"We had to sell our fishing boat to pay to dig the cultivation pool and also had to pay someone to teach me how to do it. It was expensive, and I had to get the shrimp food and medicine on credit," he said. "It takes about four months from when they are small to selling them. It should be more profitable than rice planting, but I am worried since this is our first try." Bo needs only to walk two hundred metres along the riverbank to see a cautionary tale. Nguyen Van Lung and her family started raising shrimp six years ago, but now all but one of their pools are empty. :::

"Last October, the sea washed out all of our shrimp, we lost them all," she said. "We saw the water rising up and getting closer and closer, but we couldn't do anything about it. This season, we have been forced to just dump the shrimp in and let them grow with no fans, medicine or special food." The family received a loan from the local government to survive, but it takes a lot of money to farm shrimp, on which they now rely almost exclusively for their livelihood. :::

Olivia Dun is a PhD student at the University of Sydney's Mekong Resource Centre. She is studying environmental changes, flooding, saline intrusion and migration in the Mekong Delta. "Some households have benefited from the switch to shrimp and have been able to raise their level of income," she said. "Other households have continuously struggled to raise shrimp, which are sensitive to the conditions in their pond environment and easily susceptible to disease. These households face mounting debt, and of these households, some choose to migrate elsewhere temporarily in search of an income." :::

Environmental Problems for Wetlands in the Mekong Delta

Tran Dinh Thanh Lam wrote in the Inter Press Service, “Despite a US$6.7 million conservation project funded by Ho Chi Minh City, illegal farming and logging remain a major problem for reserve officials. "Local people have taken 12 hectares of forest land for their personal use," Thanh said, adding that all the forest land along the 19 kilometer road to Can Gio commune had been converted into shrimp ponds and salt fields. "They were taking a little more land each day," ranger Nguyen Duc Mien told IPS. "It is difficult to discover the violations because they take such a small amount each day." After four months, a family could take nearly one hectare of mangrove land to breed shrimp. The threat to the ecology system is serious. Last year, rangers seized 500 kilograms of endangered reptiles and birds, besides mangrove wood cut down illegally. "That is only a small portion of what poachers and loggers have taken away," Mien said. "We should find sustainable ways to manage wetlands in ways that help local people fight poverty and preserve biodiversity," Nguyen Duc Tu of Bird Life International's Vietnam Programme told the Hanoi meeting. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Inter Press Service, September 22, 2005]

“Tu said that as the Arctic summer ends, thousands of shorebirds migrate to the wetlands of Vietnam from the north. They feed on small worms and crustaceans that burrow in coastal mud flats where thousands of people make their living by collecting shellfish. Wetlands are places of transition, where water and forest, fishery and farm meet and often overlap. In Vietnam, wetlands directly provide a source of livelihood for local people and provide environment services - from flood control to water purification and biodiversity conservation - that indirectly support the broader economy. The transitional nature of wetlands means they defy conventional, sectorial approaches to natural resources management. In Vietnam, no single agency has a mandate to manage the country's wetlands, with rights of use and access undefined so that conflict between government agencies and communities are frequent. Some agencies and communities are not fully aware of the special features of wetlands - their equally important environmental and economic functions - and therefore focus more on exploiting wetlands to increase food production.

“While the government passed three laws regulating wetland management in 1994-95, an effective and comprehensive legal framework for wetlands protection and management is still lacking. So far, the $65.7 million multilateral project to help restore the Mekong Delta's depleted coastal mangrove swamps remains the biggest wetland investment. Entitled "The Coastal Wetlands Protection and Development Project", it is to be implemented between 2000 and 2006 and covers wetlands in four provinces of the Mekong Delta. Over the past 20 years, the area has lost well over half its cover, mainly due to unsustainable logging and failed shrimp farm developments. Project coordinators want to establish a "full protection zone" and introduce diversified and sustainable farming techniques in an adjacent "buffer zone". They also want to limit economic activities and coastal developments that pose a threat to the mangrove swamps. Unfortunately, these measures have met with strong resistance from local agencies and communities that are more concerned with economic development than ecology protection.

Mekong Delta Floods

In 2001, seasonal floods killed 385 people in the Mekong Delta. Two major flood peaks left thousands homeless. In October 2001, 222 people were killed in floods as waters in the Mekong Delta rose to levels that were dangerously high, but not as high as the previous year. A total of 182 of the dead were children. Tens of thousands of houses, home to over 1 million people, were inundated. About 105,000 people had to be evacuated.

In the midst of the floods, Associated Press reported: Seasonal flooding in the southern Mekong Delta, Vietnam's main rice-growing region, has killed 222 people, including 182 children, the government reported. The floods, which inundated 253,000 homes in the six provinces affected, have caused an estimated $45 million in damage, according to the Floods and Storms Control Department. More than 24,000 families have been evacuated to higher ground. An additional 20,000 still need to be moved because floodwaters, though now receding, remain dangerously high. The floods submerged 1,405 schools, preventing 313,000 students from attending classes, the Floods and Storms Control Department reported. To reduce the number of children drowning, authorities in the three worst-hit provinces have set up 681 centers to care for some 16,500 children whose farmer parents must go out to earn their living. Some 190,000 families in the flooded areas are reportedly in need of assistance, but only 43,200 have received relief supplies. [Source: Associated Press, October 8, 2001]

In 2000, flooding killed 400 to 500 people, most of them children, and caused $280 million in damage in the worst flood to hit the Mekong Delta, Vietnam's main rice growing region, in nearly 70 years. More than 48,000 families in the Mekong Delta were displaced. About 4 million people have lost homes, livestock or crops. Total damage has been estimated at $247 million. Heavy monsoon rains in July triggered massive flooding along the Mekong River, which cuts through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. An estimated 6.5 million people have been affected, especially in the southern delta regions of Cambodia and Vietnam. In Vietnam over 300 children were drowned or swept away by floodwaters as their parents sought to salvage crops. So many places were inundated with water local authorities found they had nowhere to bury their dead.

Impact of 100-Year Drought in 2010 on the Mekong Delta

Vietnam suffers from 100-year drought in 2010. In March 2010, IRIN reported: “As temperatures rise in Vietnam, a nationwide drought has dried up riverbeds, sparked forest fires and now threatens one of the world's richest agricultural regions, upon which millions depend for their livelihoods. "The Mekong Delta is facing a serious drought," Nguyen Minh Giam, deputy director of the National Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting Center for the southern region, told IRIN. Water levels on the Mekong River are at an almost 20-year low, largely as a result of the rainy season ending early and a precipitous drop in water flow upstream, he said. [Source: IRIN, March 5, 2010]

Martha Ann Overland wrote in Time, ““The region most affected — and the one that affects the most — is the Mekong River Delta in the south. Water levels in the nation's rice bowl have fallen to their lowest points in nearly 20 years, threatening the livelihoods of tens of millions of people who depend on the river basin for farming, fishing and transportation. The biggest problem, however, is not the water. It's the salt. During the dry season, when channels and tributaries run dry, seawater can creep more than 18 miles (30 km) inland. Vietnam has installed a series of sluice gates to hold back high tides as well as control annual monsoon flooding. This has allowed farmers to switch between growing rice in the wet season and raising shrimp in the brackish waters in the dry. The result has been more-effective land use and higher crop yields, and a doubling of farmers' incomes in the Delta since 1999. /^\ [Source: Martha Ann Overland, Time, March 4, 2010]

“Those high-yield days may be over. As the drought intensifies, in some places seawater has crept nearly 40 miles (60 km) inland, says Dam Hoa Binh, deputy director of the Irrigation Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Hanoi. Most of the winter-spring crop has already been harvested, but saltwater is reaching where it has never gone before, putting the summer-fall crop in jeopardy, says Binh. "We are trying to strengthen our irrigation systems to prevent further salinization," he adds, but the extreme conditions are making it "one of the most difficult situations in 100 years." /^\

In March 2010, IRIN reported: “During the dry season, salt water from the South China Sea can push 30km inland. This year, communities as far as 60km up-river are reporting salt contamination. "Salinization has been a pattern in the Mekong Delta the last 30 to 50 years, but things are getting worse every year due to climate change," said Pham Van Du, deputy director at the Department of Planting in the agricultural ministry. He estimates that 100,000ha of rice in the Mekong Delta are under threat. [Source: IRIN, March 5, 2010]

“Because of the hydropower projects on its side of the border, China frequently gets the blame for water shortages downstream. Indeed, Vietnam's neighbor has been on an aggressive campaign to damn the Mekong River, which begins on the Tibetan plateau and travels through five other countries before it empties into the South China Sea. According to the Mekong River Commission, a regional advisory agency, China has built or is planning to build eight dams along the Mekong. But while dams raise huge concerns about interfering with sediment flow and fish migration, they can also have a positive impact, says Jeremy Bird, the commission's chief executive officer. "They will redistribute the flow of water, therefore there will be more water available in the dry season," he says. But at the moment, with China also experiencing extreme drought, there appears to be little dammed water to release. /^\

“Meteorologists say the return of El Niño, a cyclical warming pattern, is the real culprit. Ian Wilderspin, senior technical adviser for disaster risk management at the UN Development Programme in Hanoi, said climate change meant Vietnam would experience droughts that arrived sooner and lasted longer. The government has moved to assist farmers by releasing water from the reservoirs and installing pumps. But considering the magnitude of the problem, "more needs to be done", he said. "We have to look at the ways and means to build resilience of local communities," said Wilderspin, whether by providing drought-resistant seeds, planting different crops or protecting fresh water sources. "Climate change is only going to make these cycles worse."

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated August 2020

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