Location: The Mekong River Delta (MRD) is the world's third largest delta (40,000 km2), located in southwestern Vietnam.
Lead Researcher: Claudia Kuenzer
Challenges: Due to the expansion and intensificiation of the agricultural production since the 1980s, the MRD become one of Asia's main food baskets. With a population of 17 million people and a strong economic development in recent years, the major challenges in the MRD can be attributed to socio-economic transforation and urbanisation processes leading the degradation of the last natural forest and wetland areas, accompanied by increasing water pollution. The MRD is now undergoing large-scale erosion, especially in the muddy mangrove-rich western part, increasing its vulnerability under projected sea-level rise and impacting future food security. Other activities include large-scale sand mining in the river and delta reaches, mangrove removal for shrimp farms, dikes and embankments to protect shrimp farms from flooding, and future large-scale hydropower development upstream.
The fact that the Mekong river catchment is shared among six countries (China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) is a potential source of conflict in harnessing the resources of the basin, especially hydropower development. Hydropower needs are expected to rise 7% a year over the next 20 years and plans afoot will, if implemented, exhaust the river’s hydropower-generating capacity leading to a seven-fold increase in the reservoir sediment trapping efficiency with adverse effects on fisheries and coastal erosion.
Approaching a Solution: The DELTAS project will deliver a science-based MRD-customized integrative modeling framework which will be implemented, in collaboration with regional experts, to assess delta vulnerability to current and future conditions and guide sustainable management and policy. As a starting point, the MRD sustainability effort seeks to determine the current sediment flux in the Mekong River, so that there is a solid baseline for monitoring how land-use changes, riverbed mining and dams are impacting the system. Modeling via Delta-RADS will be used to evaluate present and future scenarios and integrate sediment flux computation with patterns of flooding to evaluate how sedimentation counteracts delta sinking due to rising sea level and subsidence. The distribution, conservation status, and utilization of fishes in the Mekong delta will be assessed using standard practices adopted by IUCN for its Species information Service database Red List of Threatened Species. With local stakeholders and the DELTAS component studies, we will evaluate how current and future environmental changes may affect socio-ecologic functioning and ecosystem services. These results will contribute to another principal objective, which is to quantify the role that the MRD plays for local, national, and international food security, and what are likely future projections. As for each of the focused study systems, we seek to identify possible management alternatives and trade-offs for a sustainable MRD under current and future predictions of change.