The Good Old Days of the Mekong Delta
Known as the ‘rice bowl’ of Vietnam, Mekong Delta is home to more than 20 million Vietnamese. For the past 3 centuries, it’s been the kingdom of freshwater the feeds the life of millions of people, a majority of whom is farmers and gardeners.
For ages, the delta has witnessed boats, houses and markets floating on the surface of the river. Canals and streams sneaking through fruit plantations like arteries. Fish, rice, and fruits are the proudest products that place the delta on the map of the world.
Unfortunately, this lush scenery is facing the biggest threat ever: Mekong Delta is running out of the freshwater.
The homeland of 21 million people is flushing into the ocean!
What is Happening to the Environment of the Mekong Delta?
Mekong Delta – Vital Source of Life for 90 Million People
From the massive mountain ranges in the Himalayan plateau, the Mekong River is a trans-boundary river that flows through the territory of six nations of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and finally to the South China Sea.
As the river runs its 4000-kilometer course, it supports around 90 million people with life-sustaining water, most notably in the southern region of Vietnam – the Mekong Delta.
The intricate system of irrigation and drainage canals have been utilized by the Vietnamese, transforming the tropical wetlands into the country’s most fertile region spanning 3.7 million acres of rice fields.
The rich alluvial soil and silt deposits this water carries have positively affected Vietnam’s economy in the form of rice exportation and seafood cultivation.
Mekong Delta Is Going Through the Biggest Threat of Its Existence
However, recent tidal fluctuations and severe drought conditions pose a hydrological hazard that inhibits the annual flooding that this region regularly needs.
In particular, the monsoon that starts late July, all throughout November that replenishes the local wetlands, has been sparse lately causing severe losses amounting up to more than $200 million.
Severe Drought Puts Mekong Delta under Threat
With the summer season reaching up to 37°C well on its way, it couldn’t have been a more unfortunate timing as the people of the Southeastern region brace for a drought that limits water supply both for agriculture and for daily use.
It’s already bad news that lower levels of rainfall arrived late compared to the previous years, the saline intrusion is becoming a major threat in damaging the ecosystem.
With the ensuing water shortage and the increase of non-potable water supply expected to hit the majority of the delta localities, authorities have been taking the initiative to combat the impact it brings.
Neighboring provinces have heeded the call to assist the cause by supplying fresh water to the reservoir, and more importantly, to the people that desperately need it.
For long-term solutions, the government has also looked into funding projects that aim to build embankments in new freshwater lakes to prevent salt intrusion as well as the installation of pipelines to support the entire region.
Hydroelectric Dams and Responsibility of Upstream Countries
The Lancang River, which is the upper half and a majority of the Mekong River that runs along the territory of China has seen more than quite a few constructions in recent years.
With more than a dozen hydropower projects slated by the Chinese regime, more precisely in the building of a dam in Luang Prabang, Laos, this triggers a chain of reaction that severely impacts the downstream territories.
Given the inevitable drought brought by the summer season, coupled with the construction of dams in those parts of the water channel, and you’ve got a recipe for a disaster with alarming consequences that undermine farms and fisheries that depend on the Mekong River.
China’s “development approach” has expressed to share hydrological advancement as well as assisting affected neighboring countries by releasing more water to cope with the prolonged drought.
However, the increasing rate at which ice melts in the Tibetan mountain ranges has left China little to no choice but to periodically release water from the Lancang River lest it risks salt intrusion in its own land.
Studies have shown if that scenario were indeed to happen, water released from the river will first make its way through Thailand and Laos, and by then it would be months late before it can deluge the barren fields of the delta.
What is waiting in the future is an untold story. This is the bigger scene that heavily relies on the union of the countries sharing benefits of the Mekong River.
Not only can the Indochina governments interfere with the survival of the Mekong Delta, but tourists can also leave an impact. What you can do right now is to share this news and status to your community. Other than that, consider visiting the Mekong Delta to witness what is actually happening in this region and contribute your ideas to the revive of this giant land.