From Tibet to the ‘Nine Dragons’, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is losing sand

From Tibet to the'Nine Dragons', Vietnam's Mekong Delta is losing sand

From Tibet to the ‘Nine Dragons’, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is losing sand

MO CAY, Vietnam (Reuters) – In the lifeless of night time, the whole entrance part of shopkeeper Ta Thi Kim Anh’s space collapsed. Perched on the sandy banks of the Mekong River, it took only a few mins for one part of the whole thing she owned to plunge into its murky depths.

“Our kitchen, our laundry room, our two bedrooms, all gone,” mentioned Kim Anh, talking among the twisted steel and rubble of her space, from which she nonetheless sells eggs, cleaning soap and quick noodles to villagers in Ben Tre, a province in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta area.

“We’d be better off living in a cave instead,” mentioned Kim Anh, who has used coconut husks and outdated tires to strengthen the riverbank below her house.

Upstream damming and in depth mining of the Mekong’s riverbed for sand is inflicting the land between the sprawling community of rivers and channels close to the mouth of one in all the global’s nice rivers to sink at a tempo of round 2 cm (zero.75 inches) a 12 months, mavens and officers mentioned.

The four,350 km (2,700-mile) river, referred to as the Lancang in its higher reaches, flows from China’s Tibetan Plateau alongside the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, thru Cambodia and after all Vietnam, the place it bureaucracy the delta identified in Vietnam as the “Nine Dragons”.

Reuters visited 3 provinces straddling other branches of the delta, the place it has supported farming and fishing communities for millennia.

Across the area, native government are suffering with a speedy tempo of abrasion that is destroying houses and perilous livelihoods in the Southeast Asian nation’s biggest rice-growing area.

A key reason is the years of upstream damming in Cambodia, Laos and China that has got rid of an important sediment, native officers and mavens mentioned.

That sediment, necessary for checking the mighty Mekong’s currents, has additionally been misplaced due to an insatiable call for for sand – a key aspect in concrete and different development fabrics in fast-developing Vietnam – that has created a marketplace each at house and in another country for unregulated mining.

“It’s not a problem of the lack of water, it’s the lack of sediment,” mentioned Duong Van Ni, knowledgeable on the Mekong River at the College of Natural Resources Management of Can Tho University, the biggest town in the Mekong Delta area.


At this time of 12 months the waters of the Mekong used to drift into Vietnam as a milky-brown move slowly, locals and officers mentioned.

Now, the river runs transparent. And with out recent sediment from upstream, the deeper riverbed creates more potent currents, which in flip consume away at the banks of the Mekong, the place those that depend on the river for his or her livelihoods have their houses.

The issues started when China constructed its first hydropower vegetation in the Upper Mekong Basin, mentioned Ni at Can Tho University. That left Laos, Cambodia and Thailand as the major supply of sediment for the Mekong in Vietnam, he mentioned.

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A ship transports coconuts previous a collapsed space broken by means of landslide alongside Mekong river in Mo Cay the city, Vietnam December 18, 2018. Picture taken December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kham

Sand mining in Cambodia boomed over the final 10 years, fueled partly by means of call for from rich however cramped Singapore, the place it is used to reclaim land alongside its coast, and culminating in a central authority ban of all Cambodian sand exports in 2017 below drive from environmental teams.

Hydroelectric initiatives have endured, alternatively. Earlier this month, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen opened a $816 million hydroelectric dam in Stung Treng province, close to the border with Laos, constructed by means of firms from China, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The new dam is the southeast Asian nation’s greatest hydroelectric challenge to date and may have a catastrophic have an effect on on fisheries and biodiversity in the Mekong river, environmental teams have mentioned. Hun Sen has pushed aside grievance of the challenge, which he says advantages Cambodia and its folks.

“Since China built hydropower plants, new sand almost never reaches us,” mentioned Ni. “If we use up the sand we have here, there will be no more”.

China’s Foreign Ministry mentioned in reaction to Reuters’ questions that it “pays great attention to the concerns and needs of downstream countries on the Mekong”, including that its legislation of water flows from hydro dams “has already become an important instrument in preventing floods and droughts”.

Singapore’s Ministry of National Development mentioned in a observation emailed to Reuters the town state imports sand on a industrial foundation from quite a lot of nations. “We have stringent controls to ensure that suppliers obtain sand in accordance with the source country’s laws and regulations,” it mentioned.


Regional officers in southwest China’s Yunnan province have defended the development of dams on the Mekong there as “fully legally compliant”.

Downstream, alternatively, the drawback is made worse by means of thieves who illegally mine for sand, generally at night time.

“The unlicensed sand miners are very quick and devious,” Nguyen Quang Thuong, vice head of Ben Tre province’s agriculture division, instructed Reuters in a up to date interview.

“They escape very fast, so having groups of local people helping out the authorities is very helpful.”

One such crew in Ben Tre, a few of whom are as outdated as 67, had been the usage of home made guns equivalent to slingshots and rudimentary catapults to power the sand thieves away.

“We patrol 24/7, and in the first few months we managed to get rid of 90 percent of the thieves,” mentioned Nam Lai, one in all the crew. “Since 2018, none of them dare to go near our shore”.

Still, activists and environmental teams concern that on the Mekong, which runs thru six nations with competing wishes to exploit the river’s hydroelectric attainable, the harm has already been executed.

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Slideshow (12 Images)

Pianporn Deetes, at the International Rivers marketing campaign crew, who has labored on the Mekong for 20 years, mentioned there used to be a loss of political will amongst the nations that proportion the river to recognize the cross-border have an effect on of such initiatives.

“Without the recognition of the existing problems, I don’t think there is any hope,” she mentioned.

Reporting by means of Mai Nguyen and James Pearson; Additional reporting by means of Kham Nguyen and Minh Nguyen in MO CAY, Vietnam; Prak Chan Thul in PHNOM PENH; Aradhana Aravindan in SINGAPORE and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by means of Alex Richardson


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