by Gia Loc
HCM CITY (VNS) — Viet Nam's Mekong Delta, which is home to 18 million people, has suffered adverse consequences due to poor water resource management, a researcher at a Can Tho University think tank has said.
Ly Quoc Dang of the Mekong Delta Development Research Institute said his studies on water use in three hamlets in Soc Trang Province's coastal Tran De District found water conflicts occurring between farmers there.
"Shrimp farms are near rice fields, and so water is pumped from the river to breed shrimps and then is discharged into the rice fields, killing the crop."
The province sought to be a major rice-growing area, he said to explain how this could easily become a cause of conflict.
And this was occurring in many provinces in the delta, which could have an influence on food security, he warned.
Dykes built in provinces in the upper reaches like An Giang and Dong Thap for increasing the number of crops to three a year from two had changed water flows, causing land erosion in the lower reaches, he said.
A comprehensive framework should be created for water resource management in the delta, and provinces there should co-operate with each other to make plans for efficient water management, he suggested.
Another issue plaguing the Mekong River was pollution, he said. It had become more and more polluted because wastewater was discharged from factories and breeding farms, leading to reduction of fishes, he said.
He also warned that existing dams and 11 others to be built in future would "kill" the river and its bio-diversity.
Fishermen on the river like Nguyen Anh Duy, 33, are badly affected. The third-generation fisherman is worried about his future since fish stocks are dwindling gradually.
"My catch is becoming smaller and smaller. Though [fish] prices are higher because of the scarcity, his family's finances remain difficult."
Concurring with Dang was Jaya Ram Pudashine, a research associate at the Stockholm Environment Institute, who said existing dams and reservoirs should be upgraded and made more sustainable to have less adverse effects on the environment and ecology and be beneficial for the entire basin as a whole.
Regional co-operation between member countries for making plans and policies should be strengthened to increase trust, he added.
Poom Pinthep, project manager of a programme called Improved Management of Extreme Events through Ecosystem-based Adaption in Watershed run by the Thailand-based German Federal Enterprises for International Co-operation, said people who are affected by the dam construction should be involved in any decision-making process.
Local voices should be given importance when dam construction impacts on their way of living, he said.
Local voices and representatives should be part of the decision-making process for any mega project, including dam construction, to ensure their livelihoods are sustained, he added.
People had traditional ways to manage their own resources, including water, and so local wisdom should be recognised and integrated in any policy formulation, he said.
"In Thailand, famers use such traditional knowledge to irrigate their paddy fields and small check dams are used for upstream watershed management," he said.
"Thailand has no water laws, which [a water law] I believe will be useful to manage the water resources for all purposes and also ensure efficient use of water resources for drought and flood control.
"I mean everyone should conserve water and use water efficiently."
Pudashine said poor people, women, children and ethnic minorities are the worst affected in a community in case of ineffective water management.
Water should be used as a tool to strengthen regional co-operation, friendship and trust rather than to fight each other for the benefit of individual countries, he said.
Ineffective water resource management leads to unbalanced use and distribution of water, and the inadequacy of water leads to further problems like poor health and sanitation, including various water-borne diseases, he said.
River basin planning, proper water allocation, pollution control, monitoring, economic and financial management and information management should be carried out, he said.
Pinthep also stressed the role of water efficiency campaigns through the media, forest and watershed rehabilitation programmes, policy integration in water management as well as educational awareness. — VNS