Mekong Delta's saltwater intrusion may hit 45% by 2030

Nearly a half of the Mekong Delta region would be badly hit by saltwater intrusion within the next 14 years.

The news was announced by the Ministry of Planning and Investment at a working session of the South West Steering Committee on its performance in the first half of 2016 last week.

According to the report, the saltwater intrusion would get worse if hydroelectric dams in the upper reaches of the Mekong river continue to store up water, leading to water shortages in the downstream.

Agricultural production and people’s lives were seriously affected by El Nino phenomenon, the peak level over the last 100 years with prolonged hot and dry weather and severe saltwater intrusion.

Especially, paddy and aquatic cultivation areas were heavily damaged and output dropped dramatically.

Ten Mekong Delta provinces namely Hau Giang, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Kien Giang, Long An, Soc Trang, Ca Mau, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh and Bac Lieu reported natural disasters. Saltwater penetrated deeply into the mainland nearly 80 kilometres and affected rate even reached 23‰.  

Generally, the region suffered an estimated agricultural loss of over VND 4.6 trillion, including 232,000 hectares of paddy, 6,561 hectares of farm produce; 10,800 hectares of fruits and industrial trees. Up to 226,000 households were affected by water shortage.  

Serious saltwater intrusion and disasters cost the growth of agricultural production in the region of minus 0.7% in the first six months.  

Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Van Hieu stressed that the Mekong Delta will have to face impacts of climate change and saltwater intrusion in the near future if hydro-electric dams in the upper reach store up water, making the area prone to seawater intrusion.  

“Without effective responses, the agriculture would be exhausted within the next three years and up to 45% of the Mekong Delta region would be submerged by saltwater,” said Mr. Hieu said.

Opportunities for agricultural development

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Tran Thanh Nam revealed that the ministry had already directed regional provinces to plan a new crop with a view to taking advantage of favorable weather. Output of the upcoming season crop would reach over 9 million tons.

Rice export was forecast positively in Q4 as contracts with China (accounting for 70% of the export market) would go up and is expected to offset poor performance in the first half.

In addition, the MARD also intended to boost production of catfish and litopenaeus vannamei as their export prices were on the rise.

Overseas shipment of vegetables and fruits to potential markets like Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the EU would be promoted.

With a long coastline of 3,260 km, Vietnam will be one of the countries most severely affected by climate change, in which the central coast, central highlands and the Mekong Delta are the three areas of most concern.

The Mekong Delta, consisting of 12 cities and provinces, was formed from alluvial sediments and accretion through changes in sea levels. The annual average water volume provided by the Mekong River is about 4,000 billion cu m together with about 100 million tons of silt materials, creating the most important agricultural area in Vietnam.

With its topographical features, the Mekong Delta will be affected directly by any change in the Mekong River’s water volume and the sea’s tidal pattern. If upstream areas are considerably affected by human activities, this will alter water flows downstream. For instance, the construction of hydroelectric dams upstream (in China) will regulate the amount of water and sediment reaching downstream, reducing the amount of water and sediment in the Delta. The exploitation of sand and gravel together with deforestation also changes the hydrology and silt in the area. Climate change has already resulted in substantial sea level rises near the Delta as well as increased rainfall, average temperatures, number of extreme weather events such as typhoons, and saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has announced that about 40 per cent of the Mekong Delta may become submerged due to climate change.

The central coast is largely formed from sand dunes and lagoons. The majority of the area is mountains and hills overlooking the sea with high slopes and fast flowing water, together with coastal cleavage plains. As a result, the region is easily impacted by changing conditions in climate and water resources.

The central highlands is plateau of basalt soil with thousands of square kilometers of rugged mountain peaks, so its complex temperature, rainfall and hydrology conditions are directly affected by vegetation cover that protects water and makes the climate equable. This area is the location of many important economic activities, such as hydroelectricity development, the development of industrial crops, and natural resources exploitation, leading to a loss of vegetation cover to protect water and soil. Changes in rainfall and wet seasons have increased the risk of desertification.

Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Huyen, Deputy Director of the Department of Environment and Sustainable Development,

The Institute of Energy (Ministry of Industry and Trade)

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