Can Tho — Scientists, sociologists, environmentalists, and representatives of international organisations explored measures to ensure sustainable development of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta at a meeting held in Can Tho.
Organised by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) in early June, it aimed to expand the involvement of stakeholders in the decision-making process for protecting cultural and natural resources, while improving the livelihoods of local residents and conserving wetland ecosystems.
The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta is home to 17 million people who live on a land area of 3.9 million ha, crisscrossed by a dense network of rivers and canals.
But international studies have shown that the delta is one of the three most vulnerable spots in the world to climate change. If the sea level rises by one metre, half its population could suffer; rice productivity could fall 10 per cent for each 10C rise in temperature.
Preserving the land
Delegates discussed several measures that could be taken to preserve the delta, one of which was the promotion of organic agriculture.
"It will take us a long time but the work needs to be done right now, and we need to educate local authorities and the farmer community about the future of inorganic agriculture (with pesticides)," Tran Van Tu, chairman of Can Tho’s Social Science and Humanities Association, said.
People have destroyed large swathes of forests for breeding shrimp and cultivation that is heavily dependent on chemicals. Between 1980 and 1995, around 73,000ha of forest were cut to clear land for shrimp farming.
Today this land cannot be cultivated due to a high saline level. Waterways have also been affected.
"Every year several million tonnes of fertilisers are used in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta. It is one of the reasons that biodiversity has been destroyed," Tu said.
Some environment-friendly models of shrimp feeding and rice cultivation in Tra Vinh Province were presented, and organic rice cultivation in Soc Trang Province was discussed.
Participants suggested that managers and local residents should be informed about climate change in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.
"People are the most important factor. They can contribute to the process that can reduce the impact of climate change to the delta. So they have to understand what is happening around them," Prof Doan Canh of HCM City’s Tropical Biology Institute said.
He also suggested creating an entire Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta biosphere preservation.
"For thousands of years, the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta was a very rich ecological area. If policymakers can mix development with biological preservation, it would help both protection and development," Canh added.
Close links should be created between national parks and biological preservation areas and local authorities and the community, he said.
Besides aquaculture, other activities are having an adverse impact on the environment.
The construction of dams along the upper Mekong River could affect the ecosystem as the flow of the river could alter, trapping sediments, blocking fishes’ migration routes, and reducing nutrients and productivity, according to the WWF’s Viet Nam country programme manager, Ruth Matthews.
The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta is already seeing a depletion of fish stocks, more severe flooding during the rainy season, and water scarcity in the dry season.
"Many protected wetland areas will be under threat, and agricultural land, secondary food crops and aquaculture areas will decline, while production and capacity will fall," said Dr Le Anh Tuan of Can Tho University in comments on the effects of climate change.
"Forests, land, water resources, wildlife, and minerals will be overexploited and damaged," he warned further.
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