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Ecosystems Under Threat in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta

Vietnam, HANOI

Ecosystems in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta have already suffered damage due to exploitation of resources, and plans for large dams will only increase the level of damage, according to more than 200 experts who attended at a forum in Ca Mau province this past weekend.

The forum, “Conserving Natural and Cultural Values for Sustainable Development in the Mekong Delta Region,” was hosted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, WWF, Sweden’s Stockholm University and the Ca Mau provincial People’s Committee.

The annual meeting “aims to widely share information about conservation of nature and traditional culture and propose active solutions for the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta under the orientation of the government and provinces,” according to a ministry statement.

This year’s theme was “Maintaining ecosystem services in Mekong River Delta.” Impacts of climate change were also highlighted. Researchers shared findings on hydrological systems and sediment levels, and defined ecosystem services and identified ways to manage them.

The Mekong Delta has undergone such a large reduction in size as a result of deforestation, aquaculture, agriculture, and infrastructure and residential building that its ecosystems have been divided and cut off from each other.

All of these factors have also increased contamination of the delta’s water resources.

Hoang Viet, coordinator of climatic change at WWF in Vietnam, warned that future dam construction along the Mekong River will only exacerbate the problem.

Mangrove swamps that used to cover most of the delta now cover only 77,000 hectares in two provinces, he added.

Participants urged protection and restoration of ecosystems in both short and long-term planning, as well as increased education and raising community awareness on the importance of limiting human impacts on the delta.

The Laotian government is currently building the controversial Xayaburi Dam on the main stem of the Mekong River. As recently as the end of March, the government claimed that the $3.5 billion USD dam will not harm the downstream environment. 

It has “redesigned the spillway [and] fish passage system, and nearly 100 percent of sediment can pass through the dam,” China’s Xinhua news agency quoted Deputy Managing Director of Xayaburi Power Rewat Suwanakitti as saying.

“Now both governments (of Cambodia and Vietnam) understand clearly and support our project."

However, both Vietnam and Cambodia challenged Laos’ efforts to construct the Xayaburi Dam as recently as mid-January at the 19th Mekong River Commission Council meeting.

Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment said: “Launching of the first mainstream hydropower project recently in the Lower Mekong Basin is causing concerns of the governments of the riparian countries in the region and the international community about its adverse impacts on downstream areas.  

“While we are still trying to do the research to understand its impacts, each riparian country should show their responsibility by assuring that any future development and management of water resources proposed in the basin should be considered with due care and full precaution based on best scientific understanding of the potential impacts.”