29 Jul 2016

There has been widespread publicity about the Mekong Delta Forum 2016 (MDF 2016) hosted recently in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The focus was on the way forward to make the Mekong Delta – home to more than 17-million people - a sustainable and productive region despite the region’s geographical and climatic challenges. The event was jointly organized by World Bank (WB), key Government ministries and various development partners with a specific commitment to create a ‘Prosperous and Climate Resilient Mekong Delta’.

Duy Truong of Royal HaskoningDHV gives us a snapshot of the next steps and lessons learnt that the Forum agreed upon. These are key insights considering the recent loan agreement signed between Vietnam Government and the WB on 11 July 2016 in Can Tho to fund The Mekong Delta Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Project ($310-million) to be implemented over the coming six years (2016-2022).

Truong explains Royal HaskoningDHV  role in the Mekong Delta planning: “We’ve been involved in the elaboration of the Mekong Delta plan and now in the preparation phase of the WB loan as part of a Dutch Technical Team that reviewed subprojects proposed by Vietnamese ministries to see whether these projects are in line with the recommendations given in Mekong Delta Plan (MDP) 2013.”

The forum was a meeting of minds to map the way forward in the next phase of boosting the growth and resilience of the Delta “At the forum we walked away with two very important Lessons Learnt for this new phase of planning in the Delta says Truong. “Regional Coordination is needed and a change in mindset among the Mekong delta people regarding not only the challenges they face, but also the opportunities that climatic change can offer.”

Regional Coordination is a must

There was strong consensus that a regional coordination mechanism is needed for the implementation of the socio-economic development plans geared that are directed atto sustainable development and enhancing the Delta’s resilience to the climate change. “Regional coordination is absolutely key in the next 6 years,” says Truong. “Many important challenges for development need to be addressed at a supra-provincial level. Regional economic development, climate change adaptation and regional infrastructure development all require a concerted effort of neighbouring provinces in close cooperation with the central government and the private sector in order to make efficient and sustainable use of available financial and natural resources.”

Mindset shift from threat to resource

Critical to realizing socio-economic plans will be a “change in mindset” by the people in the Delta in their search for improved and sustainable livelihoods. Communities in the Delta face growing challenges from climate change such as the devastating effects of drought and salinity intrusion in the spring of 2016.. Truong explains that this is mostly about safeguarding food security by fighting floods and salinity intrusion which threaten rice production.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Mr. Nguyen Xuan Phuc who attended the forum painted a clear picture of the scale and devastating impact of this recent salinity intrusion: “…salinity has intruded as far as 100-120km into mainland; over 230,000ha of Winter-Spring rice crop 9,400ha of fruit trees, over 5,000ha of aquaculture farms have been affected; 250,000 households are/were in need of freshwater for domestic consumption and 400,000 tons of rice were lost in the last Winter-Spring crop.

“The ‘change in mindset’ entails,” a shift away from traditional but vulnerable cropping systems towards drought and salinity tolerant systems that even have greater added value states Truong. “With a “change in mindset” we can then work with communities to identify sustainable production models, and then define appropriate structural and non-structural measures.

A move to an integrated approach for the Mekong delta

Next steps agreed upon centred on the concept and approach to investments for the Mekong Delta and that these will continue to be informed by the Mekong Delta Plan (MDP) 2013, with a focus on integrating activities and projects. Aside from the recent loan for the Mekong Delta Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Project mentioned earlier, another  project  is Decision Support Tools for a coastal dyke in the Mekong Delta.  This project is funded by Dutch Government and will be implemented over a 15 months period from April 2016 to July 2017 by a Dutch Consortium led by Royal HaskoningDHV. It will /support the work on the current Integrated Coastal Protection Plan (ICMP) being implemented by GIZ under the technical assistance of German Government.

“There is a need for strategic advice on future dyke trajectories, the level of protection and type of coastal defence for the Mekong Delta,” says Truong. “This would establish a link with the Mekong Delta Plan and is partly based on a cost-benefit analysis, taking into account uncertainties arising from climate change and socio-economic developments.” Truong is emphatic/stresses that a strategy for coastal security should be based on “Building with Nature” solutions.

Voices of the Provinces

Provinces were given their own platform session so that governmental and ministerial leaders and forum participants could hear their main challenges and how they envision their futures, for example they voiced their concerns about what are types of cropping/ aquaculture? what limits their ability to make choices in investments in terms of infrastructure versus non-structural measures. This in turn led to a suggestion to explore alternative and more climate-resilient livelihoods.

Voices from the private sector

Private and NGO involvement is key to ongoing development of sustainable livelihoods in the Mekong Delta. Private companies and NGO’s such as Oxfam, SNV, Care International shared their experiences on “Working to build the resilient communities”.

17 million lives…

Victoria Kwakwa, Vice President of World Bank, highlighted the importance of all these voices contributing to “close the gap between science and decision-making.”  This should ultimately lead to, in her words, “building a resilient Mekong delta…and help countries like Vietnam make climate-smart choices…to help delta communities vulnerable to the threats from climate change.” All 17 million of them will be watching these next steps.