Viet Nam News
Bồ Xuân Hiệp
CẦN THƠ — Increased investment in climate-resilient housing, mangrove regeneration and early warning systems is urgently needed to ensure the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta, experts said yesterday at an international conference held in Cần Thơ.
Deputy Prime Minister Vương Đình Huệ told the meeting that the Delta was facing existential threats, including rising sea levels, coastal erosion and landslides.
He urged conference attendees to focus on identifying challenges caused by climate change, especially the use of water sources upstream from the Mekong River, and to implement top-priority projects in a timely manner.
More than 1,000 local and international participants at the two-day conference are discussing measures related to climate-resilient development in the Mekong Delta.
Akiko Fujii, deputy country director of UNDP Việt Nam, said that social vulnerabilities and exposure to climate shock and stress were already occurring at a significant scale in the Delta region.
“Reducing the risk of these must be prioritised,” she said, adding that the Vietnamese Government had made significant efforts to work toward long-term resilience and sustainability in the region.
“Investment in climate-resilient housing, mangrove regeneration, early warning systems, and disaster preparedness have significantly contributed to protecting lives and livelihoods,” she added.
In addition, climate-resilient agricultural practices to reduce crop losses such as the cultivation of saline-resilient rice varieties, the implementation of climate-smart crop rotation, and the diversification of farm incomes through eco-tourism or inter-cropping had also been adopted across the region.
However, climate change, rapid economic growth and upstream development were bringing both challenges and opportunities for sustainable development of the region.
“Choices made regarding sustainable and climate-resilient development in the region should be based on sound science; bring different sectors together; bring into full play the potential of localities; and build the resilience of the people,” Fujii said.
Hermen Borst, deputy delta commissioner of the Netherlands Delta Programme, told Việt Nam News: “In the Netherlands, we have developed a special programme with two goals related to climate change: flood prevention (the Netherlands is a highly urbanised area) and sufficient fresh water provision for the economy, now and in the future.”
“We also have a special dedicated fund for the implementation of proposed measures,” he said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Christian Henckes, director of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit’s (GIZ) Integrated Coastal Management Programme in Hà Nội, said the conference had sent a clear signal to the public that the future of the Mekong Delta was a major concern for Việt Nam.
The Vietnamese government’s effort to develop the Delta that began last year was very encouraging, he said, adding that the PM’s decision on regional coordination in the Mekong Delta area launched in April last year was an important step.
Henckes told Việt Nam News: “The allocation of public investment is still not ideal and not optimal, so we need proper coordination between provinces and between the ministries involved.”
“Ideally, there should be an authority on the development of the Mekong Delta that has the mandate to allocate funds, depending on priority,” he said.
“I believe Việt Nam is aware of the problem. It takes time and it can’t be done in one year, but I’m quite confident that we’re on the right way and I hope that we can proceed fast,” he added.
Experts at the conference agreed that the Mekong Delta is facing existential threats. According to studies, 39 per cent of the Mekong Delta could be underwater by the year 2100 and some areas of the coast are already eroding at a rate of 30 metres a year.
Early last year, the region suffered the worst drought in 90 years, which, together with rising sea levels, led to a heavy intrusion of saltwater into rice-growing areas. The mangrove forests along the coast, which protect the hinterland from floods and storms, are also in dramatic decline.
These problems threaten the future of the Mekong Delta and its ability to provide essential ecosystem services in which the communities of the delta and millions of people around the world depend.
Henckes said the biggest risk was the land sinking into the ocean at a faster rate than ever. “The land has subsided by several centimetres each year, especially in Cà Mau, Sóc Trăng and Bạc Liêu,” he said.
As the region faces rising sea levels, more land will be underwater. “I think we won’t lose the whole delta, but I also think that we can’t maintain it exactly as it is,” Henckes said.
“We can’t expect concrete decisions today or tomorrow. We should expect a common understanding on how our finances can be mobilised and how the government is going to spend them,” he added.
Because of the risk of land loss along the coast, Henckes said that “we need right now to protect the frontline of the coast against the sea, but also to figure out the second line of defense for 20-30 metres inside the area, just in case the first line breaks, to protect the people and villages.”
“We’ve been working on the Integrated Coastal Management Programme for nearly 10 years now. We began focusing on coastal protection and reinforcing the dyke system, as well as supporting the people who live behind the dyke to help them increase their incomes,” he said.
Now, the programme is focusing on agriculture and governance, getting provinces to work together, and investing in the projects that are needed most.
“This year, for example, we are working with Việt Nam on a complete coastal protection plan for 720km of the Vietnamese coast,” he said.
The Mekong Delta, home to 17 million people, is Việt Nam’s most important agricultural region. Producing 55 per cent of the country’s rice, it feeds more than 245 million people worldwide.
The region is also the country’s third largest industrial region after the metropolitan areas of HCM City and Hà Nội.
The conference was organised by Việt Nam’s Government Office and the ministries of Planning and Investment; Natural Resources and Environment; and Agriculture and Rural Development.
Today, the meeting continues with a speech by the conference chair, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc. — VNS