Vietnam rings alarm bell over drying Mekong Delta

HO CHI MINH CITY (Viet Nam News/ANN Desk) – Experts call for regional cooperation as dam-building in upstream countries takes increasing toll on livelihoods of 18 million Vietnamese

Eighteen million Mekong Delta residents are suffering serious consequences as the Mekong River dries up due to dam-building in upstream countries, delegates heard at a conference in the Delta province of An Giang.
According to the report from the Vietnam Mekong River Commission (VMRC), while China has basically completed the first development stage of its hydropower-dam cascade on the Mekong, Laos has strengthened hydropower exploitation by constructing two dams, at Xayaburi and Don Sahong, on the mainstream and is preparing to build another at Pakbeng on a branch of the river.
“Around 95 per cent of total water flow in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta depends on water from upstream and the Delta has suffered great consequences,” Nguyen Thi Thu Linh, deputy head of the commission office, said at the Vietnam Mekong River Commission Conference 2017.
“The Mekong Delta is now facing strict water shortage in the dry season, a significant increase of saline intrusion, serious water flow change and severe erosion, which strongly impact agricultural and aqua-cultural cultivation as well as daily lives,” she added.
Linh said a study showed that with the two Laotian hydropower dams, total water volume would reduce 13 per cent, saline intrusion would come 3-4km further into the Mekong Delta, alluvium-silt would drop 5 per cent and aquatic productivity would fall 9 per cent.
Furthermore, Thailand and Cambodia are planning to divert a huge amount of the river’s water flow into other regions, and if this happens, 17 per cent of the water resource and 90 per cent of fish would never come to Vietnam, she concluded.
“Related authorities should set up different response scenarios with climate change based on the current situation rather than worry about information of upstream nations keeping all the water of the Mekong River,” Hoàng Van Thang, deputy minister of the Agriculture and Rural Development, said.
“Relevant authorities should collect more inter-regional information as a database for setting up climate change response scenarios, as well as call for more international support in water resource protection,” he added.
“We need official information of water volume from upstream countries to build a proper cultivation plan, but there is no way to get such information,” Lâm Quang Thi, deputy chairman of the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, said.
He proposed that the ministry of Natural Resource and Environment set up automatic measurement stations along the border with Cambodia for water monitoring.
“A master plan for Mekong Delta development should be established immediately. The master plan must update erosion in rivers and beaches, fix the road system and infrastructure development in order to restructure agricultural and aqua-cultural cultivation,” he added.
“Information sharing about the Mekong River’s water resource among ministries and localities is very weak,” the Natural Resource and Environment minister Tran Hong Hà admitted.
He asked the VMRC in co-operation with relevant authorities to closely supervise an adjustment of the master plan on irrigation, transport infrastructure and agricultural cultivation.
“The commission should consider reserving water in Mekong river branches,” Hà said.
Last month a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) found Mekong sediment flows had dropped at an alarming rate.  
The independent non-profit researcher’s “Case study on sediment in the Mekong River Basin: Current state and future trends” indicates that mainstream and tributary infrastructure development, riverbed mining, land use change and climate change are the main factors leading to a drastic reduction in sediment loads in the mainstream Mekong River, Unesco reports. 
If all the dams proposed for the Lower Mekong Basin are developed, including the planned or ongoing 11 mainstream dams, it could prevent up to 94 per cent of the river’s sediment load from being transported further downstream. This reduction will lead to loss of nutrients that are vital for the basin’s fisheries and soil fertility in the floodplains along the entire basin, especially the Tonle Sap in Cambodia and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

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