The risk from rampant construction of embankments in the Mekong Delta
VietNamNet Bridge - The building of anti-flood embankments for small areas in the Mekong Delta began two decades ago. The region has had thousands of small zones surrounded by embankments. However, anti-flood embankments have become a big threat causing flood in the region.

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Flood in the center of Can Tho City.

This year the Mekong Delta did not have floods but whenever it rained heavily or there were tides, floods occurred in many places, even in towns located on high terrain.

According to the latest statistics by Prof. Dao Xuan Hoc, former Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Mekong Delta has built 19,900 km of dikes to protect more than 6,000 pieces of rice fields with three crops/year and 17,700 km of dikes to protect over 4,000 pieces of rice fields with two crops/year. The dike system in the Mekong Delta is nearly 30 times longer than the dike of the Red River in the North.

The building of embankments for protection of rice fields mainly took place in the upstream provinces as An Giang and Dong Thap, where flooding is often very deep, up to 5-6 meters. As the dikes are built, the huge amount of water in the areas protected by embankments runs to downstream areas, causing flooding there. 

Many cities in the Mekong Delta have been pushed into a race against flooding, also by the construction of more embankments. To prevent flooding in the central area, the cities of Can Tho, Vinh Long and Ca Mau have approved plans to build about 500 kilometers of dikes and 39 pump stations. Many other urban areas also are taking similar solutions.

"In this approach, in the future the Mekong Delta will need around 20,000 km of dykes, with an investment of approximately VND170,000 billion," said Hoc.

Meanwhile, more embankments will increase the risk of flooding because the floodwater accumulates in a narrow area, and the rising sea level and land subsidence also contribute to the problem.

Waste and fragmentation

A $300 million World Bank-funded project to build embankments to protect 43,000 hectares of orchards in Can Tho City caused severe flooding in the city center and the vicinity. The city, thus, has to implement another project to prevent flooding in downtown Can Tho City, borrowing $250 million from the World Bank.

The fragmented building of anti-flood embankments like this, according to experts, is costly and uses a lot of land, with over 100,000 hectares.

According to Prof. Dr. Dao Xuan Hoc, the spending for embankments is up to nearly VND100 trillion. Under the current regulations, projects worth VND30,000 billion upward must get the National Assembly’s approval while the total amount of dike projects is nearly VND100 trillion, but the National Assembly has not taken action.

The increase of flooding has caused provisions to become obsolete, causing huge waste. Mr. Ky Quang Vinh from the Office of the Office for Climate Change Tasks of Can Tho City mentioned shortcomings in regulation on flood warnings.

In Can Tho, flood alert at level 3 is made when the water level reaches 1.9 meters. In the past, this level rarely was reached but now it occurs repeatedly. This year there was no flooding in the Mekong Delta but the water level was 1.85 m. "The works that were built based on the old rules cause huge waste," Vinh said.

In the race against flooding, the Mekong Delta has been pushed into another problem: all urban areas are built similarly, according to planning related to production, residences and environment. 

Nguyen Hong Thuc, Chairman of the Board of the Settlement Research Institute, said: "The urban construction planning in 13 provinces and cities in the Mekong Delta has a common form." 

The building of anti-flood embankments on a small scale in urban areas, she said, is destroying the environment and the ecosystems, ignoring the critical issue: Water is the soul of development of the Mekong Delta.

To deal with the risk, Thuc emphasized that the region must develop general planning for the whole region.

Tien Phong

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