04/13/2021, 12.51
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Mekong Delta in crisis due to exploitation of sand and waterbanks

by Thanh Thuy

Along the great river, dozens of dams have been built which also stop sand and mud. According to research conducted by Dutchman Philip Minderhoud, exploitation increases the risk of saline water intrusion, serious flooding and irreversible coastal erosion ..



Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The ongoing sand extraction on the canals of the Mekong Delta is causing serious loss of a lot of agricultural land. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Mekong Delta loses about 300 hectares of land every year due to the erosion of the river banks and the coast. Thus, in ten years the Mekong Delta has lost 3,000 hectares of land.

The exploitation of sand by "cát tặc" (sand thieves) or the legal exploitation of economic groups are disrupting people's lives and aquatic ecosystems. The water level of the rivers has dropped. As a result, the groundwater level also decreases, causing the risk of drought.

As in the case of Tiền Giang province, the region has the Tiền Giang River and the Vàm Cỏ River. According to a recent research, Tiền Giang has 33 sand pits covering an area of ​​1,633 hectares of reserves, with over 37.8 million cubic meters of sand.

As of April 11, 2021, according to statistics from the Department of Nature, Resources and the Environment of An Giang Province, the province has 9 enterprises that exploit the sand of the Tiền Giang and Hậu Rivers. Total production is approximately 1.6 million cubic meters of sand. The provincial government is expected to collect approximately VND 85 billion in taxes (US $ 3,687,546.50) in the year 2021.

As for the province of Bến Tre, the area has many rivers, canals and reaches the sea. In recent years, the provincial government  has claimed that the entire province had 15 areas at risk for "sand thieves" on rivers such as Cổ Chiên, Hàm Luông and Tiền Giang. The exploitation of sand has affected the environment and people's lives.

However, in the past four years, the provinces downstream of the Mekong River such as Tien Giang, Hậu Giang, Bến Tre etc. they have placed limits on the inauspicious exploitation of rivers. This is because local governments and people want to protect mineral resources in rivers and also as well as prevent erosion of river banks to ensure the safety of lives and property.

Tang Quốc Chính, director of the Department of Disaster Safety Control, told the local press "the main cause of landslides, subsidence and salinity of the river are caused by water reservoirs and hydroelectric power. They are densely built along the Mekong River from China to Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.

In particular, 19 large artificial reservoirs have been designed and built along the main course of the Mekong. In addition, 142 water reservoirs have been built or are under construction on the tributaries of the Mekong River. "The hydroelectric power basins - added Tăng Quốc Chinh - have prevented mud and sand from flowing downstream. This mud and sand have the effect of filling or preventing erosion. There is another cause, namely the exploitation of the sand in the upper part of the Mekong ".

If companies and economic groups built many reservoirs and exploited the sand as they do now, the amount of mud and sand downstream of the Mekong River would be reduced by 97% in 2040. The Mekong Delta, therefore, is now short of mud and sand. This also impacts the lives of 18 million residents.

Dr Philip Minderhoud, Dutch, is responsible for research on groundwater resources and saline intrusion in the subsidence conditions of the Mekong Delta. He proved that "the area is only 0.8 meters above sea level". The increasing rate of land subsidence in the Mekong Delta increases the risk of saltwater intrusion, flooding and coastal erosion more and more seriously. Faced with the situation, Dr Philip Minderhoud said it was time for Vietnam to have an urgent action plan and consequently, diplomatic steps to reduce impacts upstream of the Mekong River. The government of Vietnam must immediately address the root causes of the exploitation of groundwater and sand downstream of the Mekong Delta.

Elspeth Akkerman, ambassador of the kingdom of the Netherlands to Viet Nam, said that the Mekong delta is a fertile plain that is sinking, due to the increase in the flow of the tide and the lack of sedimentation. The ambassador recommended that the Vietnamese government take immediate action to avoid more serious eventualities. The Netherlands is ready to continue to cooperate with Vietnam for a systematic approach and sustainable development of the Meking Delta.

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