The uncertain Mekong River

In a lecture for secondary students in Can Tho, I started with the question: "Does anyone know what the Mekong is like here?". There are only four arms raised in a classroom of 50 people.

One of them explained to the class that the Mekong is a river flowing into Vietnam, forming the Mekong River. Not only the children in the West, dozens of farmers I interviewed in Bac Lieu, Ca Mau or An Giang did not know much about the river flowing in front of their door. They do not know the vast plains of their families to earn their living from the end of the seventh longest river in Asia, flowing through six countries. The more they don't know what is going to happen to the Tien, Hau and Can Tho rivers ...

The news about Mekong seems to be out of reach for fishermen who dive all year round on alluvial fresh water. Meanwhile, according to a report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Mekong Delta now has 265 points of river and coastal erosion. 265 points with a total length of 450km.

The Mekong Summit has just taken place in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Here environmental researchers warn that hydropower will damage the river basin, with serious environmental and socio-economic impacts.

This warning is not new. The report on the amount of sediment made by the Mekong River Commission this year wrote: “The amount of alluvium is estimated to decrease by 67% to 97% in development scenarios from 2020 to 2040. Sediment loss can have consequences. seriously affecting the abundance of the river, affecting the geomorphology and soil stability in the Mekong Delta ”.

With hydroelectricity on both the secondary and main currents being built, the alluvial scenario studied is expected to be only one-third of 10 years ago. And by 2040, the amount of sediment that the delta will lose will be 97%.

The morphology of the delta is threatened. The riches that constitute the lives of the students I ask are hardly intact. Consecutive landslides House drifting. River water is no longer rich in silt. Rice fields are no longer eager to pour water and lose nutrients. They occur slowly, erode and seriously destroy people's livelihood in An Giang, Bac Lieu and Dong Thap. People have spoken out about the disappearance of the floating market. It is extremely difficult to imagine those who have ever traveled across the plains.

The 2016 drought left a deep wound for lowland farmers. The whole Ben Tre province is seriously affected by saline intrusion. People thirst for clean water. Over two hundred thousand hectares of rice, hundreds of thousands of hectares of fruit orchards were damaged.

Hydropower, an important element that has caused major changes in the Mekong River and the Mekong Delta for many years, has been an important contributor to the region's development. Many important hydropower on the mainstream of the Mekong River have been built, about to go into operation.

At the summit of the Mekong River Commission last week in Siem Reap, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc also affirmed that the current top concern of the Vietnamese Government is to respond to negative impacts on the Mekong Delta region due to climate change, extreme climate events and human activities.

The fate of the Mekong Delta depends on a long series of major impacts from the upstream Mekong to many neighboring countries, and to the narrow canal of fishermen's porch in the hamlet. Pangasius rafts, green fields or rich fruit gardens have all become the main actors in the uncertain future picture.

In 2016, Thai fishermen I met understood that they lost their crops because the upstream water fell erratically too quickly due to adjustments from the Canh Hong (China) dam. But the farmers in Dong Thap I have never had the chance to understand what is and will happen to their lives, when living with newly born hydroelectric dams.

They did not know that such a gentle stream did not naturally pull landslides and engulf houses. They said, listening to the radio said China was releasing water to save Vietnam.

The kids who will own the plains are missing information from the government and the community. Information can help them anticipate and cope with a future of thirst and hunger in the rich and enthusiastic Mekong River.

Where does the government response come from? Is the participation of the plague-plagued farmers plagued by muddy and scalar livelihoods for years to come?