Mekong Delta prepares for large-scale transformation to ensure future
The Mekong Delta, home to more than 17 million people and Việt Nam’s most important agricultural region, is facing existential threats due to climate change. Việt Nam News spoke to Hermen Borst, deputy Delta commissioner of the Netherlands’ Delta Programme, on the sidelines of an international conference held in Cần Thơ on Sept 26-27 on sustainable and climate-resilient development of the Mekong Delta. Bồ Xuân Hiệp reports.
Hermen Borst (left), the deputy Delta commissioner of the Netherlands’ Delta Programme, speaks about the need to ensure climate-resilient development of the Mekong Delta region. — VNS Photo Bồ Xuân Hiệp
What are the main objectives of the conference?
I believe the conference on sustainable and climate-resilient development of the Mekong Delta, which is under the full leadership of the Vietnamese Government, is a very important step to save the region from the impact of climate change.
The event discusses the implications, planning, policies and investment needed to achieve long-term sustainable development for the Delta, and looks at the large-scale transformations necessary to secure a future for its inhabitants and ecology.
What are the major challenges facing the Mekong Delta in the context of climate change?
I think it is especially important that the conference pays equal attention to the negative impact of human action on the delta as well as the effects of climate change, because it is the combined impact of our own actions in the delta and global climate change that is such a big threat.
So, it is not only rising sea levels, changing river flows, drought and increasing temperatures, but also the lack of sediment and changing fisheries due to upstream developments and sand-mining, and land subsidence due to groundwater use. Together, these impacts threaten the livelihoods of residents, cause erosion, increase salinity, and so on.
What needs to be done to cope with climate change in the region?
Let’s be clear. Climate change is here to stay and its impact will make itself felt over the coming decades. Therefore, there is no easy or quick fix. We will have to take measures to be better able to live with changing circumstances and we will need to keep open options for action when future change occurs.
This will require a few large-scale transformations of current practice and land use. And we need to better take into account the geography, geology and ecology of the delta now and also take into account change as it unfolds.
It is the same in the Netherlands as it is in Việt Nam. But specifically for the Mekong Delta, it may be necessary to adjust the coastal zone to a more saline economy, utilising brackish water.
It will be necessary to stop subsidence, to provide alternatives for groundwater use; for instance, by adjusting the irrigation system. And the current high-dyke triple-rice cropping system may need a rethink, to better utilise the natural hydrology of the delta for water retention.
These are some of the issues discussed at the conference. And for implementation, it is clear that the direction of development will need to be somehow anchored in a decision-making system, including the need for cross-sectoral integrated planning, financing and implementation.
How have you adapted to climate change in the Netherlands?
In the Netherlands, we have developed a special programme with two goals related to climate change: prevention of flooding (the Netherlands is not like the Mekong Delta, but is instead a highly urbanised area) and provision of sufficient fresh water for the economy, now and in the future.
This is our delta programme, which is based on a special law. It makes use of a highly specialised governance structure, with teams of all stakeholders preparing regional and national strategies, and a special delta commissioner combining those different strategies into one optimal strategy, into a proposal that then is debated in parliament for decision-making.
We also have a special dedicated fund for the implementation of the proposed measures.
And I think what is important is that this programme uses an adaptive approach, constantly revising and developing next steps, but also keeping the two goals (flood prevention and safety and enough water) firmly in focus.
What can Việt Nam learn from the Netherlands about climate-change adaptation?
Let me say that I was very impressed with the debate today. There is a clear focus on the objectives and there is a good grasp of problems and solutions.
What we may add to this from our perspective from the Netherlands is that it may help to develop shared values like the need for flexibility and sustainability as the basis for evaluation of different strategies.
Some structuring decisions will be necessary for Việt Nam to help formalise a consensus regarding the direction of transformation.
If you put these into law, they will form a basis for the evaluation of new proposals. And I think that some of the aspects of our governance, like a multi-stakeholder strategy and project development, and integrated planning and sharing responsibility for implementation and financing may also help.
The system of the delta commissioner is very specific for the Netherlands, but Việt Nam may need some entity with sufficient capacity to help facilitate this participation and integration in planning and implementation