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Mekong Delta islets losing farmland to serious erosion

Update: September, 23/2016 - 09:00
Erosion has affected 265 areas along the Mekong Delta’s rivers and estuaries. Riverbanks totalling 450 kilometres in length have collapsed. VNS Photo
Viet Nam News

HCM CITYCao Văn Ba, who has lived on the Sơn Islet in the middle of the Hậu (Rear) River for nearly 50 years, fears that he will have no choice to move to the mainland as erosion is destroying his farmland.

“My family has 2 ha of farmland near the head of the island, where half of the land has eroded over the last 10 years,” the 66-year-old farmer said. The islet, located in Cần Thơ city’s Bình Thủy District, covered 100 ha but is now only 60 ha.

Other islets in the Cửu Long (Mekong) Delta, where thousands of families live, are also expected to vanish because of serious erosion.

Formed by silt deposits from the Hậu River, Sơn Islet has many fruit orchards and household farms. Community tourism is also a source of revenue for families.

But, because of eroded farmland, many families have moved to the mainland, and only 78 households remain.

Phạm Văn Nhu, of Bình Tân District in Vĩnh Long Province, who lived on the islet for 10 years, moved to the mainland after losing 8,000 sq metres of land from 1978 to 2012. The family had to move 10 times.

“We sold the remaining land at a low price and then moved to the mainland,” Nhu said.

After years of excessive sand extraction on the Hậu River, landslides along the riverbank have become more severe, causing deep subsidence.

A little further upstream is an islet called Cả Đôi, located on the Hậu River in Cần Thơ’s Thốt Nốt District.

Erosion has washed most of it away. In 1960, Cả Đôi was 4 km long and covered by paddy fields and sugarcane farms.

Due to the fertile soil, many people from nearby Tân Lộc Islet and Đồng Tháp Province’s Lấp Vò District in the past moved to the islet to cultivate sugarcane and rice.

“Every morning, people came to the islet by boat to take care of their gardens and then returned home in the evening. But no more!” said Lê Văn Huân, chairman of Fatherland Front Committee of Cần Thơ City’s Thốt Nốt District. 

Looking over the expanse of the river, Nguyễn Văn Côn, of Tân Lộc Islet, said “It used to be a large area not far from my home. People could call over to each other from one islet to the other. We could hear them clearly. But now it has vanished.”

By 1990, Cả Đôi Islet had only 6 ha, and by 2005, had disappeared completely because of erosion, according to the Thốt Nốt District authority. Another islet, Tân Lộc on Hậu River, has lost 10 ha out of 3,334 ha over the last six years.

Worsening erosion has affected a large area of farmland, according to Lê Thanh Nghị, vice chairman of Tân Lộc Ward’s People’s Committee.

In Đồng Tháp Province, the Long Phú Thuận and Tây islets have also suffered serious erosion, as have the Đồng and Chợ Mới islets in An Giang Province.

In 2011, 250 houses on Tây Islet collapsed into the Tiền River with an affected area stretching 4 km.

In the following years, five communes on the islet were seriously affected by erosion, caused by illegal sand exploitation, according to local residents.

Among the residents, desperation has turned into anger. Recently, 50 locals living on Tân Lộc islet noticed a group of people who were illegally exploiting and transporting sand on large barges.

They used motorbikes to chase them off the sand mining barges operating on the Hậu River. The police are investigating the case, according to local media.  

Affected households

Đồng Tháp Province also has more than 2,100 households living in an area at a high risk of erosion. The province has asked the central Government to fund VNĐ900 billion (US$42 million) to resolve the erosion in the province.

Meanwhile, thousands of households in An Giang Province live in erosion-prone areas, but have still not been relocated to safer areas.

The Ministry of Construction has asked the Prime Minister to develop an additional 132 projects to build concrete dykes and barriers around seriously eroded areas as well as move 44,800 households to safer areas in the Mekong Delta.

In recent years, erosion has swept away 500 ha of land each year in the Mekong Delta, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The Mekong Delta has 265 erosion-prone areas with a total length of 450 kilometres of rivers.

About 200 km of coastal areas have lost 30-40 metres of land every year, according to the ministry.

By 2050, one million people in the Mekong Delta will be affected by land and coastal erosion.

The cause of the erosion is mostly because of the increasing number of dams upstream that have caused the water level to change.

This has blocked the flow and amount of sediment and reduced biodiversity in the Mekong Delta, experts have said.

Erosion and sea water intrusion are expected to become more severe in the Mekong Delta. Experts forecast nearly 40 per cent of the region will be 30 metres under water by 2100 because of global warming. — VNS

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