Much effort has been expended on tackling climate change but Vietnam requires further support from the international community to mitigate and adapt to its effects.
The wet season arrived late and ended early in the Mekong Delta this year, with total rainfall being well short of the average in recent times. Water flows along the key Mekong River were down dramatically, permitting greater saltwater intrusion than usual. Farming, production and people’s lives have been seriously affected, with hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice and fruit suffering damage.
“The influx of salt water, which is predicted to extend up to 70 to 90 km inland, has had a major effect socially and economically in Mekong Delta provinces, sometimes to a serious degree,” said Associate Professor Dr. Huynh Thi Lan Huong, Deputy Director General of the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Climate Change.
Saving the Delta
The recent drought and salt water intrusion has been assessed as the biggest natural disaster to strike Vietnam. With low rainfall, intrusion covers an area double that seen last year and is beyond the country’s ability to cope. Vietnam is very much in need of support from the international community.
The state of affairs was described to a workshop with development partners and sponsors on responding to drought and salt water intrusion in the central region, central highlands, and Mekong Delta, held on March 15 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Le Hai Binh told a press conference in Hanoi on March 17 that Vietnam had asked China to increase the water volume discharged from the Jinghong hydropower reservoir to help it partly address the drought and salt water intrusion hitting the Mekong Delta and that China had agreed. According to the Vietnamese Embassy in China, a representative from the Chinese Irrigation Ministry met with Embassy representatives on March 14 and informed them that China would increase the discharge from 1,100 cu m per second to 2,190 cu m per second from March 15 to April 10, or double the average of the last two years.
Many experts, however, say this can only ever be a temporary measure and that Vietnam must take other action instead of depending solely on China. “The discharge is only a temporary solution and we cannot ask China to do likewise when next we face this problem,” said Ms. Nguyen Thi Thu Huyen, Deputy Manager of the Sustainable Development and Environment Department at the Institute of Energy under the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat told the workshop that since last October the government has spent VND700 billion ($31.4 million) on helping localities build irrigation works and ensure fresh water supplies. Fifteen kilos of rice have also been given to each person in poverty-stricken households every month.
The ministry attributes the severe drought and salinity to the El Nino weather pattern and climate change in general. It is therefore implementing medium and long-term solutions that include production restructuring, shifting from cultivation to husbandry or the non-farm sector, and the construction of salinity control facilities.
On March 12 Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued Directive No. 09/CT-TTg on the implementation of measures to control and respond urgently to saltwater intrusion in the Delta. MARD and the Ministry of Finance are required to review and combine proposals for funding to provinces on drought and saltwater intrusion and then report back to the Prime Minister for consideration. He also agreed to provide budget support to provinces affected by saltwater intrusion so they can build temporary dams to restrain salt water and retain fresh water, with funds also being used to help with freshwater transportation costs and installing plumbing systems. Localities are also requested to allocate budget funds and mobilize other capital sources to limit saltwater intrusion.
Authorities and residents in the Delta have been applying all possible measures and mobilizing resources to minimize the damage caused by salinity.
Soc Trang province has closed sluice gates in Long Phu and Tran De districts to prevent salt water entering rice fields. Ben Tre province has built dykes around orchards in Cho Lach district and established a water supply system to transport fresh water from Ba Lai Reservoir to thousands of households in Binh Dai district.
Tien Giang plans to build 173 dams, install pumps to pump water at 178 sites and dredge 146 canals in rice fields to supply fresh water. Dong Nai province, meanwhile, has already implemented 78 irrigation projects this year with total investment of VND350 billion ($15.7 million), of which the State budget funded 11.4 per cent.
These examples express the efforts of provinces and localities in saving the Mekong Delta from saltwater intrusion and many other provinces are also trying to minimize the effect of climate change on economies and societies.
Climate change response has received a great deal of attention from the government and relevant ministries in recent times. A number of pilot programs on infrastructure construction and improving capacity to respond to climate change have been implemented but been unable to limit the adverse effects in the Mekong Delta.
“The issue of climate change has had a massive impact on all aspects of socioeconomic development in Vietnam as well as in the region and around the world,” Ms. Huyen said. “Vietnam is forecast to be one of ten countries most heavily affected by climate change.”
Recognizing the threat to economic development, the government has made addressing the impacts of climate change a key priority. In December 2008, under Decision No. 158/QD-TTg, it approved the National Target Program (NTP) to respond to climate change. The strategic objectives are to assess climate change impacts on sectors and regions during specific periods and to develop feasible action plans, effectively respond to climate change in the short term and long term to ensure sustainable development, take opportunities to develop towards a low-carbon economy, and join the international community’s efforts in mitigating climate change.
These efforts have seen some positive results but may not be clear to see as the effects of climate change continue to be felt in many ways. “Some sectors have been positive in responding to climate change, such as agriculture and energy,” Ms. Huyen said. “The proportion of renewable energy has soared together with an increase in concern by providers and customers over energy saving and effectiveness.”
Despite the efforts in place Vietnam still faces limitations and obstacles in identifying solutions to tackling climate change. Emerging issues are the inconsistent data systems for testing greenhouse gases and the impact of climate change, poor preventive measures and a lack of facilities for observing, monitoring and evaluating climate