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Mekong Delta adapts to saline intrusion

Nguyen Hoang Hiep, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, talks to the Government's website chinhphu.vn on the need to develop plans to reduce the negative impacts of drought, salinity and land subsidence in the Mekong Delta.

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A farmer in Tan Phu Commune, Chau Thanh District in the Mekong Delta Province of Ben Tre views his durian garden, which is dying of saline intrusion. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Thi Thu Hien

What is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s point of view on the task of curbing the impacts of drought, salinity intrusion and depressed geological formation in the Mekong Delta?

We have defined some natural disasters like major typhoons, salinity and land subsidence in the southeastern and southwestern regions of the Mekong Delta which cover 19 provinces.

Saline intrusion in 2016 was described as the worst in the region in 100 years. In 2016, saline intrusion lasted about two months, and only two communes in Ben Tre Province were not affected.  Yet this year, saline intrusion has already lasted five months and the whole Mekong Delta region has been submerged under the water.

Facing such serious natural conditions, many people have accepted they have to live with such conditions. Some people have raised the idea that they should find ways to adapt to such natural condition and find ways to adapt to the severe natural disaster by developing non-project or project structures.

Can we control such a severe natural disaster?

Of course for the Mekong Delta region, we should divide the region into different sub-regions to control them. For the problem of land subsidence and saltwater intrusion, we need to adopt specific measures for some seven provinces, but not Dong Thap Province or Ho Chi Minh City as they have not yet been seriously affected.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has submitted to the Government and the National Assembly a plan on how to secure a stable supply of clean water for people living in the Mekong Delta. At present, more than 3,000 water plants have been built in rural areas. However, in the dry season, the water from these plants has been slightly contaminated by the intrusion of saline water. To solve this problem, the MARD has worked with local authorities to discuss ways to ensure there is sufficient fresh water for the local population. At the same time, the MARD and local authorities have worked together to lay some 300 km of water pipe to bring fresh water to the people to use in their daily activities. We think this is a good way to solve the problem of freshwater shortage in the Mekong Delta.

For some 20,300 households which are scattered here and there, we have also developed a plan to build water tanks to hold water for each household. According to our calculations, the cost of building a water tank is roughly VND15 million (US$640). We hope these plans will help people have fresh water for daily use.

Research has indicated that land in the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City will be subsided by between 1-1.5 metres per year. The study also projected that by 2050, some 70 per cent of the land in the region will be lower than the sea level. What’s your point of view of this study?

That study raised an alarm for us and made us think about it seriously. Yet we should not worry much about it. Whether we want it or not, it will still occur and we have to look for ways to limit its negative impacts.

I’m pretty sure that in such a situation the MARD will develop plans to meet the freshwater demand of local people while protecting land from subsistence due to deep well drilling by many households for freshwater usage.

According to plan, on June 21, the MARD will discuss with the provinces of Ca Mau and Bac Lieu provinces on ways to bring fresh water from other provinces to the two provinces so they won’t have to dig deep wells.

According to a plan, in the next five years (2021-2025) some major projects will be launched to supply water to the population in Ca Mau and Bac Lieu provinces.

What solution will help the Mekong Delta adapt to the extreme weather in the context of climate change?

In the context of climate change, in the country’s socio-economic development plan, climate change should be considered an important factor.

However, to some people, in the development plan, we should come up with measures to limit the negative impacts of typhoons and floods. The Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have worked closely together to come up with norms on how to ward off the negative impacts of typhoons or floods.

It is reported that in Vietnam, up to 85 per cent of freshwater is used in agriculture production and rice production consumes up to 75 per cent of the freshwater. Meanwhile, water used for households accounts for only between 1-2 per cent.

Vietnam is a country which has a potential of 850 billion cubic metres of water. At present, we consume 100 billion cubic metres per year. It is projected by 2030, the volume will be 110 billion. However, water distribution in Vietnam varies from region to region – a challenge for us in keeping water security for production.

According to forecasts, there will be no major floods in the Mekong Delta. So, farmers could start their winter-spring crop a bit earlier than in previous years. VNS

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