Beyond GDP - The importance of environmental sustainability

"Vietnam needs to include the Mekong River flow management in its ASEAN agenda with the technical support and consultation from NGOs, non- ASEAN countries, scientists in Vietnam and beyond."
By Nguyen Ngoc Huy - Senior Climate Change Advisor, Oxfam in Vietnam

Đọc bản tiếng Việt tại đây. 

The use of pesticide in farming, cheminals in manufacturing, and waste water pouring directly into ramifications of the river have exposed the lower basin to grave contamination.

A drop in water inflow from Upper Mekong exacerbated salinisation that has made inroads to a vast area of the Delta. The shortage of incoming water can be rooted in partly climate change-related reduced rainfall in the upper basin, and partly in hydroelectric dam buiding that hinders the flow of Mekong River. Until November 2019, there have been 13 major hydroelectric dams coming into operation mainstream, and the construction of another 12 hydroelectric dams have been scheduled. To make the matter even worse, to the West of the Annamite Range where some Mekong river branches lie, the small and medium-sized hydroelectric plants also contribute to the depletion of water flowing downstream. Against this backdrop, currently, inequality exists between residents living in the river delta who bear the brunt of hydroelectric buiding and operation and climate change, and corporations and governments who rake up profit out of investing in hydroelectricity in the upper basin.

Gap between the policy and implementation

Severe drought and salinisation that came into play at the end of 2015 and early 2016 brought the government to introduce Resolution 120 on Sustainable and climate resilient development of the Mekong Delta in the year later 2017.

This resolution is remarkable with a national stature and a long-term 2050 vision. The policy will provide a framework to recover natural patterns, realting to the flooding cycles of Mekong River, and help people transform their livelihoods. Farmers in Mekong River Delta can, therefore, better adapt to the rising sea level and salt water intrusion. The reality of the policy implementation, nonethess, does not echo the Resolution 120’s spirit. After 2 years coming into effect, residents living in the Delta still face the corosive impacts of drought and salinisation.

The shortcoming to be seen in the implementation of Resolution 120 is the lack of uniform water resource coordination. The government tends to resort to instant response, such as closing the drainage in the face of salinisation, without taking into account a flexible operation of the infrastructure adaptive to changing nature.

The solution for Mekong Delta River: balancing between human activities, and exploiting the natural resources and environment

Inevitably, the Mekong River Delta is prone to salt water intrusion over the years, which is driven by the adversial impact of climate change and the operation of upstream reservoirs. Therefore, swift change to the new context is needed.

However, in order to address the root cause of the issue, Vietnam needs to include the Mekong River flow management in its ASEAN agenda with the technical support and consultation from NGOs, non- ASEAN countries, scientists in Vietnam and beyond. Water Resource in Mekong River basin needs to be allocated equally and sustainably, ensuring the right of all people to access to fresh water.

Globally, hydroelectric plants have been disassembled to give a new lease to the living environment and ensure the balance of ecosystem, protect biodiversity and the environment. The Mekong Delta in particular and countries where the Mekong River runs through should follow suit by pursuing renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal power generated by households, businesses, and electric power companies.

Besides, it is important that both Vietnamese people and government change the approach to using water resource for production activities and household use, from overconsumption and low efficiency to a more sustaibale manner. Among other things, solutions can be harvesting rainwater for household consumption, in community groups, and at workplaces; promoting the installation and application of renewable energy for aquatic farming and merging into national power grid; adopting solar energy-powered treatment of brackish water into clean water and residential clusters levels.

Along with abovementioned technical solutions, education and raising community awareness about protecting water resource from being contaminated, and making good use of water should be incorporated into schools, residential communities for the sustainable development of the people.