Climate change reduces Mekong River flows, causing impacts for Việt Nam

October 06, 2023 - 13:43
Climate change has reduced the flow of the Mekong River over the past ten years, and causing impacts for the Mekong Delta in the region, including Việt Nam.
Anoulak Kittikhoun, Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat delivers his speech at the 13th regional stakeholder forum on Thursday in Luang Prabang Province in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.— VNS Photo Nguyễn Hằng

By Nguyễn Hằng

LUANG PRABANG — Climate change has reduced the flow of the Mekong River over the past ten years, causing impacts on countries in the Mekong Delta, including Việt Nam.

The Mekong Delta in Việt Nam was now facing two challenges, consisting of sea-level rise and the use of water, said Anoulak Kittikhoun, Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat at the 13th regional stakeholder forum, organised on Thursday in Luang Prabang Province in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

“Sea-level rise is a global problem, Việt Nam is not alone,” he added.

Second, Việt Nam had its own development challenges, including the water use in the Mekong Delta, he said.

“I think the Vietnamese Government is seriously looking at the challenges and taking action.

“We know that the flow of the Mekong has changed,” he said.

Therefore, the Mekong River Commission, together with the member countries and China, was studying how to understand the causes of the changes and to identify adaptation measures such as sharing more information (in the short term), he said.

In the medium-to-long term, it would come up with a strategy to manage the challenges, he said.

The Mekong River Commission was also coordinating bodies and facilitating the cooperation between the member states to cope with the changes and minimise the pressures on fish and the environment, he added.

Under the draft State of Basin Report 2023, revealed at the forum, the Mekong River’s dry-season flows have increased, but flood-season flows have decreased.

The changed flow regime is evident along the length of the river, with impact greatest at upper parts and overall volumetric impact greatest downstream, the draft said.

Wetlands have declined significantly. There are pressures on the fish population. Although the average fish abundance from catch data either increases or is stable in most areas, a substantial decline in fish abundance is still found in the Khone Falls area (border region in Lao PDR and Cambodia) and in Việt Nam’s Mekong Delta, the draft said.

Local people catch fish in an flooded field in the Mekong Delta province of Hậu Giang.— VNA/VNS Photo Duy Khương

Rice and fisheries sectors contribute a large share of national production. Rice production contributes 54 per cent of the total national production of four Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB) countries, fisheries contribute 39 per cent in Việt Nam and 43 per cent in Cambodia, the draft said.

Besides, the draft also said that strong evidence of climate change within the river basin is found through increases in both temperature and sea-level rise.

The daily temperature increased by over 1.4 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years. There was a reduction in a number of heavy rainfall days (with the rainfall higher than 100mm) and very heavy rainfall days (with the rainfall higher than 150mm) in the Lower Mekong River Basin.

Nguyễn Nhân Quảng, former Deputy Secretary General of Việt Nam National Mekong Committee, said that it is very good for the Mekong River Commission to coordinate with China to study the hydrological flow of the Mekong River.

It could help partly understand the current state of the Mekong River as well as human and natural impacts under climate change conditions, he said.

Quảng also said that the specific impacts of changing flow for the people in the Mekong Delta in Việt Nam, firstly was the quantity of water, secondly was the quality of water.

If the water was not enough, it would greatly affect crops, especially for rice and fruit in the Mekong Delta in Việt Nam, he said.

On the other hand, if the quality of water was not guaranteed, it would also cause impacts on aquaculture of local people in the Mekong Delta in Việt Nam, he said.

In addition, the decline in the water quality also meant that sometimes the water did not have enough silt to replenish the Việt Nam's Mekong Delta, which would have an indirect impact on river bank erosion, he added.

“And clearly, a lack of water to serve aquaculture and cultivation will greatly impact the livelihoods of people in the Mekong Delta,” he said.

Joint management needed

Kittikhoun said the forum was a regular mechanism to reach out to communicate with stakeholders, from Government, private sector, academia, and the community.

It is an open and exclusive forum where people can come and share their views, their opinions and their concerns, he said.

“We are in a constructive dialogue; if there is something that needs to be addressed, we can really record and further recommend,” he said.

“The biggest challenge in the Mekong River is getting more and more developments,” he said.

These developments not only bring countries many benefits but also challenges and pressures on the environment, he said.

“We also have the impacts of climate change,” he said.

To address the challenges, the Mekong River Commission encouraged joint project and joint management, he said.

“That is the key message of the forum,” he said. — VNS