Overview of key messages

Mekong Delta Plan key messages.

Below is an overview of the key messages as presented in the Mekong Delta Plan. For more detailed information on the key messages, go to the Library link (registered users only).

Master message on climate change.

☞​​​​​​​ We can make climate change impacts better or worse.

The Mekong Delta ranks among the three mega-deltas in the world that are most likely to be severely affected by climate change. Changes in temperature, rainfall, riverflow and the periodicity and extent of water-related natural disasters are already occurring. In the inner delta, floods are projected to have a higher magnitude (deeper inundation of the plains) and longer duration, affecting major rice production areas. In addition, reduced volume of retention areas is expected to necessitate capital-intensive protection measures against higher flood levels in urban and industrial areas. In the outer delta (coastal zone), projections indicate that the sea level may rise 30 cm by 2050 and as much as 75 cm by the end of the twenty-first century. Rises of such magnitude would aggravate the saltwater intrusion problem and have impacts on agriculture and fisheries. It is estimated that a sea level rise of 20–40 cm will lead to significant losses in all rice cropping seasons and place food security of the nation at risk. Land subsidence due to long-term drainage and groundwater extraction is likely to further exacerbate the sea level rise. By mid-century, portions of the Mekong Delta will likely experience 1m (0.42–1.54 m) of additional inundation hazard due to land subsidence.

Climate change impacts are not independent of human activities. Current human activities can be intensifying the impacts of climate change. By taking the right actions, human activities can lessen climate change impacts. Taking no action can be as bad as doing harm.

Key message on existing situation.

☞​​​​​​​ Past and existing socio-economic development policies for the Mekong Delta create increasing pressures on water and land resources, which are aggravated by the adverse impacts of climate change and transboundary developments in the Lower Mekong Basin. Developing an appropriate strategy to mitigate and adapt to these pressures is crucial.

Over the past decades rapid population growth, agricultural and aquaculture intensification policies and uncoordinated industrial and urban developments are leading to increased pressures on land and water resources in the delta. Critical sectoral issues are:

  • Water resources: The low elevation combined with increasing land subsidence, sea level rise and shifting landuse patterns resulting make the delta increasingly vulnerable to flood risks and salinisation. Water quality is slowly deteriorating due to use of fertilisers and industrial pollution being disposed without treatment. Groundwater aquifers are being depleted due to lacking availability of fresh surface water in the dry season. Upstream hydropower development in the Mekong Basin impedes fish migratory routes and alter sediment load down to the upper part of the delta.
  • Agriculture: Currently, the delta is a processing area where most commodities and input materials (fertiliser, agro-chemicals, equipment) for production are imported. The existing value chains of rice and aquaculture leave low margins for the farmers and economies of scale lead to a growing number of landless people and outmigration. In the processing industry, the majority of companies focus on processing raw agricultural products with low added value.
  • Spatial planning: Development of industrial zones and changes in agricultural production systems lead to increasing and uncoordinated urbanisation.
  • Transportation: Rapid economic growth over the past decade is resulting in serious transport bottlenecks limiting further growth and development of the more remote areas in the delta.
  • Environment: Progressive land and water reclamation, agricultural intensification, as well as earlier negative ecological impacts of warfare have significantly reduced the natural forests, wetlands and other natural habitats of the delta.

Key message on agricultural transition.

☞​​​​​​​ A modernisation strategy away from low-yield agricultural intensification towards development of the full vertical agricultural product value chain contributes best to a safe, prosperous and sustainable future for the Mekong Delta.

Despite all planning efforts, industrial development in the Mekong Delta falls behind and actual developments are deviating from existing government policies aimed at high-tech agricultural development and full exploitation of the competitive advantages of the region. Implementing all regional and sectoral masterplans for the 2020-2050 time interval for the Mekong Delta does not seem attainable due to 1) high upfront investments required for climate change protection; 2) a low degree of spatial coordination by GoVN; and 3) an unfavorable economic climate.

A development direction where the Mekong Delta develops into a regional hub specialised in high-value agriculture products for export and domestic markets fits with the region’s demographic and economic structure and utilises its' typical natural features (low lands, waterways and fertile soils), thus providing an excellent basis for a long-term vision on future sustainable economic growth. Industrial and tertiary sector activities, except for related services and industries such as logistics, machinery and equipment are directed outside the delta.

Key message on intersectoral coordination and regional cooperation.

☞​​​​​​​ Realisation of the agricultural transition strategy requires effective spatial planning (water resources, land use, urban and industrial development, transportation etc) and therefore highly depends on the level of intersectoral coordination and interprovincial cooperation.

The current institutional landscape in the Mekong Delta is complicated, with planning and implementating roles spread across several ministries and agencies. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) is responsible for managing the nation’s land, air, and water resources, and is also Vietnam’s lead ministry for climate change policy. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is responsible for overseeing and providing policy guidance on the agriculture and rural development in Vietnam. In addition, MARD is responsible for overseeing the development of water resource infrastructure including irrigation, flood control, and coastal defenses. The Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) oversees the overall national, regional, planning processes and promotes and guides infrastructure investments.

Due to the large level of autonomy at the provincial level, cooperation levels are still low, and the current mandate of the South-West Steering Committee inhibits them from taking a stronger coordination role, especially with regard to the implementation of measures and investments.

All this makes multisectoral planning and interprovincial coordination difficult, and the extent of integration among different plans and development agendas is not very clear. A break from business-as-usual sectoral development planning towards interministerial and interprovincial coordination is required.

Key message on data and information management.

☞​​​​​​​ Improved data and information management is crucial for identification, screening and prioritizing transformational investments.

Research institutes and agencies have no mandate, protocols or other (financial) incentives to share information, pool resources or to collaborate on research activities and innovation. Furthermore, a traditional approach prevents new real-time data coming online and remote sensing capabilities being used to their full potential. As a result, the evidence base (research, joined factfinding) for policy and decision-making is often lacking. Together with limited capacity at the provincial level, this negatively impacts the quality of policy-decisions.

Establishment of a delta-wide knowledge management platform, based on an underlying and agreed multisectoral knowledge agenda and facilitated by an improved business model for agencies and institutes can  strongly contribute to evidence-based policy-making and investment selection and prioritization.

Key message for upper delta.

☞​​​​​​​ The existing flood control strategy with high dykes in the deep flood plains to enable triple crop rice harvesting is not sustainable.

The Upper Delta area (Dong Thap, An Giang, northern Kien Giang) is characterized by the annual floods in the wet season, with flood waters being retained in the Long Xuyen Quadrangle and the Plain Of Reeds. The development of an extensive agricultural flood control system has shifted the flood waters to other areas in the Delta and also reduced the beneficial effects of flooding including replenishing soil fertility, groundwater recharge, and sustaining aquatic eco-systems.

Long-term yields are decreasing due to soil degradation, and reduced water retention volumes leads to a higher downstream flood risk. A water retention strategy is required which facilitates controlled river floodings in the wet season through a low-dyke system and improved flood diversion for extreme events. Rice production targets need to be adjusted to support a shift away from triple crop rice harvesting towards more profitable and sustainable flood-based agricultural production systems.

Key message for middle delta.

☞​​​​​​​ An effective spatial planning is required with (inter)regional agro-business zones spatially concentrated and located in hubs where there is a clear comparative advantage for these activities (i.e harbor facilities, road and waterway transport, enhanced flood security). Urban planning should facilitate the needs of the migrating labor force. High value agricultural areas need to be protected.

In the past decades an urban-industrial corridor northeast of Hau river (between Hồ Chí Minh City and Cần Thơ) has developed at the expense of prime agricultural land for high-value fruit production and horticulture, however return on investment is below expectations as the occupancy rate at industrial parks in the region remains low: the Mekong Delta has approx 50 industrial parks in operation and an additional 45 are under construction or being planned. The majority of the region’s parks are located between Can Tho and HCMC, with only a few situated southwest of Can Tho. Despite early success in attracting tenants, the occupancy rate at industrial parks in the region remains low – only 20-30% of the land is occupied.

The inland areas northeast of the Hau River (between HCMC and Can Tho) are also used for higher-value fruit production and horticulture. This region produces oranges, tangerines, bananas, coconuts and mango. Roughly 1.5 million tons of each of those fruits is produced here each year.

Key message for estuary zone.

☞​​​​​​​ Further salinization of the estuary zone is inevitable, and maintaining a large part of this area for rice production targets does not seem economically justifiable. A fresh-brackish-saline based polyculture based strategy needs to be adopted​​​​​​​.

The estuary zone is characterized by low river discharges during the dry season, combined with tidal influences, which allow saline water to extend far inland (up to 60km) at springtides. Over the past twenty years, closed freshwater systems designed for rice and fruit production have been developed in this area consisting of large polders with protective dikes and sluice gates to retain the available fresh water and control saline water intrusion. More recently, farmers have started converting to exploiting more profitable intensive and extensive shrimp farming along the coast. This has resulted in both local conflicts as well as a large-scale destruction of protective mangrove forests and increased flood risk.

In the coastal area, a fresh-brackish-saline based polyculture based strategy needs to be adopted, with mangrove regeneration in the outer zone to naturally reinforce the shoreline. Additional coastal reinforcements (dykes, sluicegates) can serve to protect against increasing flood risks due to seal level rise. More inland, protective sluicegates can be used to secure the freshwater-based horticultural production.

Key message for peninsula area.

☞​​​​​​​ The existing intensive shrimp farming systems, which rely heavily on groundwater, are not sustainable and the over-abstraction is resulting in severe land subsidence behind the coastal line. The aquacultural strategy needs to be modernized to facilitate a transition towards a saline-based production system, which includes different environmental zones to facilitate mangrove regeneration and sustainable shrimp production. Groundwater reserves should be used for domestic water supply only. Hard infrastructure coastal protection measures can be planned more inland, and should be disconnected from the transportation system to allow for flexibility.

In recent decades, there has been a stong increase in shrimp farming practices along the peninsula coast, which relies heavily on groundwater abstraction to maintain the proper salinity level. Evidence increases that the over-abstraction of groundwater is resulting in severe land subsidence behind the coastal area. The natural mangrove forest has been significantly reduced, although there are still some protected mangrove zones. An extensive canal network has been developed to bring freshwater from the Mekong River into the peninsula to allow rice production.