Climate change hits the delta

In the last month of the year, daily life is going on as it has been for hundreds of years in Vietnam’s largest delta in the Mekong River basin.
In the last month of the year, daily life is going on as it has been for hundreds of years in Vietnam’s largest delta in the Mekong River basin.

But, day by day, the area’s residents are feeling subtle changes caused by the weather, and they are confused about what is happening or what could be done.

These small changes towards something potentially more extreme could turn the Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta upside down in the next dozen years, if the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen does not take strong action on global warming, as many scientists have warned.

As world leaders gather in Denmark at the conference later this week, the Mekong Delta has become a magnet for world attention. International delegations have been taking turns to visit its provinces in southern Vietnam to discover what is occurring there.

The most recent visit was by a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) team who criss-crossed canals during a four-day cruise across the Mekong River’s two main tributaries of Tien (Front) and Hau (Rear) early this month.

Around the circumference of Thoi Son Islet, which is in the middle of the Tien river facing My Tho City, one of the main centres of the delta, concrete dykes can be seen here and there to protect the vulnerable land against tidal waves which have become more and more aggressive in recent years.

Thoi Son’s area of is populated by 6,000 residents, most of whom live on rice crops, fruit crops and fish farms.

Their livelihood is largely dependent on the surrounding river, and for generations they have been as familiar with its behaviour as with the back of their hands.

But there is something else they have never known, and cannot explain.

“For the last three years, tidal waves in the flood seasons have grown bigger and bigger,” said farmer Le Thi My Nuong, adding that tidal waves often inundate the islet for an hour twice a day during flood seasons that fall in the ninth and 10 th lunar months.

Pointing to a new house under construction on a raised foundation half a metre above the earth, Nuong said that her family had no choice but to live with floods.

“We have been living on this land for generations. We can’t leave sit or afford new land elsewhere,” she said.

Houses built on raised ground like Nuong’s are becoming, whose population is pooling money to built embankment around their homes, gardens and orchards.

“These embankments built by households are making up a system that circles 70 percent of the islet,” said Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lang, a long-time resident and owner of a tourist garden.

“Places without an embankment will have fruit trees wilting and pond fish swept away into the large river,” she added, noting that floodwaters tend to rise so suddenly that an anchored boat can be pushed onto the ground within seconds.

“Floodwaters this year are about 20cm higher than last year’s,” said Huynh Van Dung, 44, a fish farmer living on a floating farm in the middle of Tien River just offshore the islet.

Dung said he “knows nothing about climate change” and that his biggest concerns are about the price of his fish and where he can sell this product.

“What comes will come, and even if we care, we can make no big changes,” he said.

At Thot Not district’s Dong Hiep commune, which is a two-hour drive from Can Tho, farmers who follow the Vietnamese model that combines an orchard, fish pond and pigsty are also feeling the effects of climate change.

“The last four years have seen massive rainfall over four on five consecutive days,” said Ho Van Ba, 87, a farmer living on the bank of Dung canal, adding that the downpour has stripped his mango trees of flowers and stimulated growth of harmful insects.

It’s definitely raining more than dozens of years ago,” he said.

Ho Van Du, 65, Ba’s eldest son, said hotter temperatures in March and April this year were the main causes of his loss of harvests.

“The fish cannot endure intense heat, so up to one third of them died,” he said, noting that diseases can easily spread in hot conditions./.

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