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12 february 2020

Contending with marine intrusion in the Mekong Delta

Vietnam is being increasingly confronted with saltwater intrusion in the delta’s coastal provinces during the dry season (January to August). If sustainable water management solutions are not rapidly adopted, the situation is set to continue to worsen, affecting the availability of freshwater for irrigation and domestic use in what remains the country’s “rice basket.”

Saltwater intrusion during the most recent dry season was accompanied by an unusual drought, with the 2019 rainy season (September to December) seeing below-average pluviometry. These two phenomena combined caused huge agricultural losses in the Mekong Delta — which encompasses 12 provinces* — and put the flow of water into it as its lowest level.


According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, rice paddy fields for the winter/spring 2019-2020 harvest cover over 1.5 million hectares, 332,000 of which require irrigation solutions in the event of prolonged saltwater intrusion**.


In the Tra Vinh province, seawater has entered 55 kilometers upstream in the Co Chien and Hau Rivers. For this reason, various measures have been adopted to prevent crops from being damaged: dredging and shoring up canals or building temporary dams blocking saltwater intrusion and storing water for irrigation.


The drought and saltwater intrusion are also leading to a water shortage for the 82,000 or so households in the region. This figure is set to rise to 158,000 in the future, according to reports from the provinces. Some of them have already planned the installation of freshwater supply points for the local communities.


All these measures fall within the sphere of action of the Mekong Delta Plan, adopted by the Vietnam government in 2013 and supplemented in 2017 by a resolution to continue its development “in a safe, prosperous and sustainable way on the basis of high-quality agriculture in collaboration with services, eco-tourism and industry, particularly the agro-processing industry.” 


*Between 18 and 20 million people live in the Mekong Delta’s twelve provinces and three-quarters of them are involved in agriculture.

**During the severe drought of winter 2015-2016, the salinization level in the delta reached 4 grams per liter of water, i.e. the maximum limit tolerated by rice seedlings.





© Heng Sinith_AP_SIPA