Some 20 million people call the Mekong Delta home, and 60 million are dependent on the natural environment of river system for their livelihoods, says the Environment Administration.
The Mekong Delta, as local folklore suggests, is a lifelong partner of the Vietnamese that provides the people wisdom and guidance.
However, the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in farming and the discharge of solid waste from craft villages and households combined with the effect of climate change is destroying the Delta.
Le Anh Tuan, a researcher with The Climate Change Research Institute at Can Tho University, agrees with the Environment Administration. Mr Tuan says the Delta will be completely gone within the next one to two hundred years.
The river system that has sustained life for so many thousands of years is now dying because of the negative effects of climate change and pollution.
Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, and is triggering erratic weather patterns, to which the area is particularly vulnerable due to how flat it is, says Mr Tuan, who is the vice director of the Research Institute for Climate Change.
The Mekong Delta is an agricultural miracle area that accounts for just 10% of the country’s land mass but produces more than one third of its food crops and 60% of its farm raised fish and shrimp.
Changes to the Delta, therefore, will have a catastrophic impact for the people of Vietnam, Mr Tuan cautions.
Erosion can kill at anytime
Residents of the Mekong Delta have good reason for concern. River banks are eroding and earlier this year, in the district of Dam Doi of Ca Mau Province, more than 30 houses were swallowed by the river.
In April, another disaster in district of Nam Can in Ca Mau Province killed a family of four while they were sleeping. Everywhere, towns and homes are being consumed as riverbanks keep eroding.
Many residents have given up their long-time habit of living close to the sea and rivers, says one long-time resident, Tam Sau. Because life’s lessons have taught them that erosion can kill at any time in the Mekong Delta.
Experts say the erosion is the result of groundwater extraction, which is happening at an ever-faster rate to support growing urbanization. At the same time, rising sea levels are flooding and taking over low lying coastal areas, which are losing hundreds of hectares of land annually.
Towns and homes are being engulfed by rivers
As seawater penetrates up to 90 kilometres inland, vast swathes of farm land in the Delta once widely reputed as the rice bowl of Vietnam are dying along with the hardier fruit trees and coconut palms, Tam Sau explains.
Pressure from manufacturing and industrial parks
The rural environment of the Mekong Delta is under pressure from manufacturing at industrial parks, says the Vietnam Environment Administration and impacts from climate change, such as rising sea levels, and natural disasters.
Environmental pollution risks also come from cultivation, animal husbandry, aquatic and farm produce processing, craft villages, and industrial production.
Poor planning and management, says the Environment Administration, along with the ineffective operation of waste treatment facilities have made protecting the Mekong Delta even more difficult.
Raising public awareness of the devastation that environmental protection is wreaking on the country is of paramount importance says the Environment Administration. It’s the first step to changing the habits of people and saving the Mekong Delta.
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