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Delta in Danger

By Tran Hoang Tuyen, Vietnam Agriculture, Vietnam

On the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, the residents of the Mekong delta prayed all day and night in the pagodas. They prayed that disaster would be averted. The prayers failed. Two-thirds of Pho Ba village, An Giang province, disappeared: 150 families became homeless in the erosion.
Over the past six years, floods have become the norm in the Mekong Delta. Two years ago, almost a million families were forced to abandon their homes to avoid the worst flooding in living memory. Dr. Bui Dat Tram, manager of the An Giang hydro-meteorology centre reports that “in the past 5 years over a thousand children have drowned in floods and this year almost three hundred thousand families were made homeless by flooding.
The cause?  Environmentalists point to a combination of upstream deforestation, rapid clearing and dam building as far away as China. Dr.Yu Xiaogang, director of Green Watershed, a Yunnan based NGO, points to China’s hydroelectric dams. One is already on stream and a further seven are planned. China is currently pumping in US$ 5 million into Mekong Navigation Channel Development-Improvement project, which requires the destruction of rapids, reefs and shoals to expand the waterways. As Dr. Yu points out, " without these natural checks, the water will flow stronger and faster eroding the bank and damaging the entire river."
Chainarong Sretthachau, director of Southeast Asia Rivers Network (SEARIN), claims that this project will  " destroy the bio-diversity and seriously damage the downstream ecosystems." Despite such concerns, rapid blasting is due to restart on December 15th this year, giving rise to increased concerns in the Delta region.
Nguyen Ngoc Minh from the People’s Committee of Can Tho province points to the further changes occurring in the delta. He said that besides destroying villages, the flooding causes mass erosion of the delta, which in turn increases the sedimentation of the river. Because of this, the Vietnamese government " has had to borrow US$ 9 million to dredge the navigation channels in the Dinh An region,"  " These debts put extra pressure on the already hard pressed people, " he adds.

Drought is also threatening the region. The result: this year U Minh Ha, a reserved forest, was burned for 20 days leading to the loss of 5,000 hectares of protected woodland and the suspected demise of several species including Rai Ca (Water Rat), a rare night heron and one of the world’s largest rested cranes, each already noted as endangered species on the International Red List.

And for the first time this year the Delta ran short of water for drinking and irrigation. To produce one kilo of rice, a farmer needs 5,000 litres of fresh water. It is in short supply. “If we are not careful the water resource will worsen,” predicts Dr. Bui Chi Buu, Director of the Cuu Long Rice Research Institute. This lack of water could lead to the sea encroaching and change the entire soil structure of the delta. " That’s why we hope the upstream nations will stop creating disasters for those living downstream. All people in the world are born equal to enjoy the right to happiness and freedom,"  said Dr. Nguyen Huu Chiem, head of the Department of Environment and Natural Resource Management at Can Tho University. It’s a sentiment, which the people of Pho Ba village heartily endorse.

Copyright 2009 IMMF.