Salinisation struggle tackled head-on

14:00 | 24/03/2020
Vietnam’s efforts to combat water shortages and saline intrusion in the Mekong Delta and climate change impacts in other regions have been fuelled by the United Nations Development Programme.

In 2016, communities in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam experienced the most severe drought and saline intrusion in more than 60 years. With water sources dried up or saline contaminated, many of the poorest families were forced to buy fresh water for their daily needs, at a price they could ill afford. Many had also taken out loans for rice seedlings and fertiliser, which they struggled to repay.

To provide support to the most vulnerable families affected by the drought and saline intrusion, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Vietnam provided emergency relief co-financing by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and implemented through Oxfam and the Vietnam Red Cross.

Once the most urgent needs were identified, 436 households in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre were provided with fresh water and water tanks, and other emergency relief. Additionally, with support from the Central Emergency Response Fund, the UNDP also worked with World Vision and the Vietnam Red Cross to provide support to a further 6,000 affected households in Ba Tri district in Ben Tre, and Ham Thuan Bac and Bac Binh districts in the south-central province of Binh Thuan.

salinisation struggle tackled head on
Photo: VNA

Intensified backing

In early 2020, the UN and UNDP worked with the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority to send working groups to assess the situation in the Mekong Delta region, and provide information as a basis for other members in the Partnership for Disaster Risk Reduction under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) to support.

An aid package worth $185,000 was financed to help the Mekong Delta region cope with drought and saltwater intrusion. As many as 300 affected households have provided water tanks in Ben Tre province in the region and about 180 households are offered livelihood support in the southernmost province of Ca Mau.

The UNDP is also supporting a policy dialogue in preventing saltwater intrusion and natural disasters and an application of mobile technologies to update damage caused by natural disasters, including drought and saltwater intrusion.

“This is the second historic drought and saltwater intrusion spell in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta. Never has such a menace eaten into the main land as it is doing now. It has come a month and a half earlier than in previous years. In some areas, the drought and saltwater intrusion has entered some 90km deep,” said Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Hoang Hiep.

He said that inhabitants from the delta are suffering from grave shortages of water for their livelihood and production.

“Thus the UNDP’s support is of great importance to the sufferers,” he stressed.

According to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office, the total area of agricultural land in the region is 2.6 million hectares. With this land resource, the region produces about 50 per cent of the total amount of food in Vietnam and ensures food security and livelihoods for approximately 70 per cent of the region’s population. Agricultural products of the region are also exported to the international market. Thus the region’s development of the agriculture sector directly correlates with poverty reduction.

The main agricultural products of the delta include rice, fruit, fish, and shrimp. It contributes 30 per cent of the agricultural production value, 57 per cent of total rice production, and 41 per cent of aquaculture production of the whole country. More than two million hectares of agricultural land are dedicated to rice production. There are only 150,000ha of cash crops such as vegetables, soybean, maize, and sugar cane, and 320,000ha of perennial crops like durian, coconut, mango, and longan.

However, according to international experts, the Mekong Delta is the most vulnerable to climate change and weather extreme events. Not only that, Vietnam as a whole is also considered one of the 10 countries at most extreme risk to natural disasters and climate change.

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, climate change has contributed to temperature increases of more than 0.50°C and a 20cm rise in sea level over the past 50 years in Vietnam. Extreme climate events also have been increasing. In past years, disasters have caused hundreds of deaths, destroyed nearly 100,000 houses, and accumulated losses equivalent to 1.3 per cent of GDP annually.

Supporting other regions

In order to support the country in overcome these menaces, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has just approved $30.2 million in funding for a new project that will address water insecurity issues and support climate-resilient agriculture for vulnerable smallholder farmers in Vietnam’s Central Highlands and south-central coast regions.

The GCF is established within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as an operating entity of the Financial Mechanism to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change.

Led by the MARD and the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) National Designated Authority to the GCF and technically supported by the UNDP, the new six-year initiative will directly benefit around 222,400 people in the provinces of Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan, and Khanh Hoa. The beneficiaries account for about 10 per cent of the provinces’ population. The initiative will provide modern irrigation systems, improved water security and livelihood options, increased knowledge of climate risks and resilient agricultural techniques, and access to localised climate advisories and market information.

In addition, over 335,000 people are expected to indirectly benefit from bettered institutional capacities through training and technical assistance, enhanced access to climate risk information, and widespread dissemination of best practices in climate-resilient agriculture.

The project is an innovative bend of finance between GCF grant and loan finance provided by Asian Development Bank (ADB) to have and integrated approach to building resilience.

“We are proud of having worked closely with the MARD and the MPI to mobilise international climate finance to build climate resilience for vulnerable communities, especially the poor and ethnic minority groups,” said Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP resident representative in Vietnam.

“This second project focuses on climate-induced drought areas in central highlands and central coast of Vietnam, while our first GCF project focuses on improving resilience of vulnerable coastal communities. Together, these projects will set Vietnam on the path for building a sustainable climate resilient future and model for others in the region,” she said.

With significant economic growth over recent decades, Vietnam is widely, and rightly, considered a development success story. However, poverty persists in some communities particularly among ethnic minorities.

Agriculture and water resources are the foundation of the livelihoods of about 64 per cent and 48 per cent of the people in the Central Highlands and the south central coast region, respectively. However, climate change-induced rainfall variability and droughts are leading to reduced water availability in agriculture, resulting in increasing declines in agricultural production.

The Central Highlands and south-central coast are expected to experience wetter wet seasons and drier dry seasons with an increased risk of severe droughts. Only about 27.8 per cent of the region’s agricultural land is irrigated, and farmers are forced to exploit groundwater for irrigation. Accordingly, farmers face reduced crop productivity, which in turn is impacting food security and incomes.

Small-scale farmers with plots of less than one hectare, who are dependent on one or two rain-fed crops a year, are most vulnerable to climate change impacts. During severe and prolonged droughts, they are unable to access sufficient water to maintain agricultural productivity because the existing irrigation systems are unable to meet the corresponding growth in demand for water, and alternative sources such as rivers, streams, ponds, and wells.

As well as investing in climate-resilient infrastructure – supporting smallholder farmers to connect to the irrigation systems financed by the ADB – the project places an emphasis on community-driven adaptation.

“This project focuses on sustainable water management and will help accelerate Vietnam’s National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan and Sustainable Development Goals, especially the country’s priority actions to eradicate poverty, achieve food security, reduce inequality, and to realise sustainable communities,” Wiesen noted.

The project also complements the Vietnamese government’s efforts to ameliorate the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities under the UNDP’s first GCF coastal resilience project, which is building 4,000 new storm-and-flood resistant houses and regenerating 4,000 hectare coastal mangroves to protect vulnerable communities whose lives and livelihoods are being impacted by the climate crisis.

Up to now, more than 2,400 new storm-and-flood resilient houses have been built, 1,400ha of coastal mangroves regenerated, and more than 32,000 people have been trained and get access to climate risk and resilient information.

By Nguyen Dat

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