A consortium led by Royal HaskoningDHV has drawn up a plan for Vietnam’s Mekong Delta that will deliver sustainability and protection for this important agricultural area. The plan describes the strategic vision for the Delta until the year 2100 and involves the industrialisation of agriculture, the sustainable use of land and water and planning based on a shared framework. The plan also contains ‘no regret’, priority and long-term measures for a sustainable and climate-proof delta. Dutch Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen presenting the plan to the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Văn Ninh. Other partners in the consortium include Wageningen UR, Deltares, and RebelGroup.
The development of the Mekong Delta is important for the economy of Vietnam. Michel Tonneijck, a leading professional in Flood Control Structures and senior project manager at Royal HaskoningDHV, says: “The Mekong Delta provides most of the rice grown in Vietnam and is one of the largest rice producers in the world. However, as the industrial development of the delta is falling behind other regions in the country, the economic development of the area is also slowing.”
Smarter use of the rich natural resources in the delta is a major feature of the plan. The focus is on creating added value, rather than just on agriculture. Tonneijck adds: “At present, each farmer transports their own individual harvest to market. There are much more efficient ways of doing this.”
Rise in sea level and salinity
The Mekong Delta is home to 17 million people and has a surface area of 39,000 square kilometres. The use of land and water is very much part of the socio-economic development of the delta, and vice versa. Tonneijck says: “The use of these natural resources is under pressure because of the delta’s vulnerable and low-lying position, but also because of the lack of control over processes in agriculture, fishing and industrial development. For example, the extraction of groundwater is causing the ground to sink.” At the same time, the region is facing rising sea levels, an increase in river discharge, salinity, and in periods of drought the amount of fresh water decreases even more.
The Mekong Delta Plan contains 12 short-term and long-term measures to deal with land and water management between now and 2100. These include various ‘no regret’ measures that will benefit the delta, depending in part on climate-related developments. Tonneijck says: “For the northern part of the delta, for example, we advise allowing the river to expand and the creation of controlled flood plains. The cultivation of fish and vegetables should be further diversified and be made flood-proof. As far as the protection of the long coastline is concerned, we are advising that the mangroves should be restored, a process in which aquaculture could also play a positive part. For the delta as a whole, we advise improving the water infrastructure and port facilities, which would make bulk transport over water possible. This would enhance the economic position of the delta.”
The consortium’s other aim is to make administrative changes to achieve real industrial development based on agriculture. The Netherlands can use its own experience to provide input to cooperative partnership agreements between farmers. Tonneijck explains: “The farmers can work together to lower their costs and use their means of production, land and water more sustainably. This will ultimately lead to the Vietnamese agricultural sector becoming more professional, and being more accountable in terms of the sustainable use of land and water.”
Integration of secondary plans
Tonneijck says: “One of the challenges in the plan is to combine small and large-scale measures. During the forthcoming year, the Delta Plan will need to be rolled out further, so the 13 provincial governments and other stakeholders will need to get organised. The Vietnamese government will have to take a leading role in this. The plan is also of great interest to international financers, for whom the government forms an important link. One major challenge, for example, will be to persuade the many stakeholders that room for the river is more important than achieving a third rice harvest.”
Almost two years have been spent on the Delta Plan, at a cost of 1.3 million euros, financed by the Partners for Water Programme of the Dutch government. The Mekong Delta Plan is the result of close cooperation between the governments of the Netherlands and Vietnam and was drawn up under the coordination of Mr Cees Veerman, the former Dutch Minister of Agriculture, the chairman of the Delta Committee, and special advisor to the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Dung.