Islets in southern Vietnam vanishing as erosion threatens millions

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Erosion on a Hau River islet in the Mekong Delta. Photo credit: VnExpress Erosion on a Hau River islet in the Mekong Delta. Photo credit: VnExpress

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Cao Van Ba lost half of his two-hectare orchard on Son Islet due to serious erosion in the past few years.
“The islet used to be more than 100 hectares but it has shrunk to around 60 hectares,” the 66-year-old farmer of Can Tho City told local media.
The islet on the Hau, a Mekong River tributary, was once known for fertile land and lush orchards. But in the past decade, more than 200 of the 300 families here have moved away due to erosion, local media reported.
Erosion is a problem faced by many other islets on the Hau River, with unchecked sand mining and upstream dams blamed as the main reasons. 
Ca Doi Islet, for instance, has been wiped out completely. The 20-hectare islet used to stretch for four kilometers in Can Tho’s Thot Not District. Now there is no sign of it. 
According to local authorities, the islet was eroded to only six hectares in 1990 before disappearing recently.
The case has worried residents on the nearby Tan Loc Islet, where erosion has devoured nearly 10 hectares in the past five years.
“Erosion has become worse in recent years and many people are losing their land,” said local official Le Thanh Nghi.
On July 18, about 50 residents clashed with sand mining workers accused of causing the erosion.
The media also warned about serious erosion on other Hau River islets, including Long Phu Thuan and Tay in Dong Thap Province, and Cho Moi in An Giang Province.
Dong Thap and An Giang authorities have reported that thousands of households living in erosion-prone areas need to be relocated.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Mekong Delta loses around 500 hectares of land every year. Relevant agencies have identified 265 riparian areas threatened by eriosion, stretching 4over 50 kilometers along river banks.
By 2050, about one million people in the delta are expected to suffer from erosion and land loss.
Upstream culprits
Experts said that upstream dams in neighboring countries have brought harmful impacts on the Mekong Delta, including erosion and degraded land and biodiversity.
In a recent move, Laos held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Don Sahong hydropower project and plans to build another, Pak Beng, next year.
Hydropower dams on the Mekong River. File photo
Earlier in 2012, the country had broken ground for the controversial Xayaburi.
Meanwhile, Thailand is about to divert four billion cubic meters of water out of the Mekong River, to retain more for its own use.
Le Anh Tuan, deputy director of the Mekong Delta Institute for Climate Change Research, said the Mekong River Commission did not really play an important role in coordinating member countries in solving issues surrounding common water resources.
“The Don Sahong will obstruct fish migration. Many fish species will become extinct because they will be unable to migrate to the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia for breeding.”
“Mainstream dams also have blocked sediments, which form the Mekong Delta,” he said.
Duong Van Ni, a lecturer at the Can Tho University, said that hydropower dams in Lao will have devastating impacts on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.
“The threat is palpable and the delta may collapse, affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.”

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