Dutch expert offers suggestions for Mekong Delta’s sustainable development

Wednesday, 2018-11-14 06:38:02
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Appropriate solutions needed to cope with challenges, towards a sustainable future in the Mekong Delta. (Photo: NDO/Quoc Dung)
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NDO – The Mekong Delta and its people are facing flooding, drought, salinisation, polluted water and land subsidence. However, smart and appropriate responses would help the people to live with the challenges, turn them into opportunities and make the delta more sustainable, resilient, and prosperous.

The statement was made by Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for Water Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, during an interview with Trung Hung, a Nhan Dan Online correspondent, on the appropriate and coordinated approach to sustainable and long-term solutions for the stable development and prosperity in the Mekong Delta.

On the occasion of his recent visit to Vietnam, Henk Ovink shared the knowledge, experience and solutions from his country in addressing the aforementioned issues, which the Netherlands is also facing. He also discussed how to promote the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement on Water Management and Climate Change Adaptation signed by the two countries in 2010, as well as the implementation of Resolution 120 by the Government of Vietnam on the Mekong Delta’s sustainable and climate-resilient development.

Q: Could you outline some of the outstanding achievements during the implementation of the Strategic Partnership Agreement on Water Management and Climate Change Adaptation between Vietnam and the Netherlands in recent years?

A: The announcement of the Mekong Delta Plan 2013 was one of the highlights of the partnership between the two countries. Both Vietnam and the Netherlands have been active in preparing this plan. So far, the vision set out in the plan has been formally introduced into Resolution 120 on the sustainable development of Mekong Delta in adaptation to climate change, as issued by the Prime Minister. The Netherlands appreciated the clear direction in the field of water management and climate change in Vietnam. Resolution 120 is a solid foundation for further shaping the joint common efforts in the future.

The essence of these achievements is that Vietnam now recognises the challenges based on a clear understanding of the interdependence of the relevant sectors. Water related activities will have an impact on agriculture, livelihoods, nature, transportation and industry. Therefore, the solution will only be sustainable if all these interdependent areas are considered in the decision-making process.

Q: So, what are the key factors contributing to the success of this partnership?

A: Good partnerships are always based on mutual respect. Respect is one of the strong foundations in the bilateral relationship. One of the great things about our cooperation is that the Netherlands can also learn from Vietnam's development and from water and climate studies in the Mekong Delta.

The second basis of the bilateral partnership is the fact that both Vietnam and the Netherlands face the common challenges of climate change and human behaviours that affect the future of both countries. We share the same challenges and opportunities in our river deltas, particularly in Vietnam, mainly in the Red River Delta and the Mekong Delta, and in the Netherlands, mainly the Rhine-Maas River Delta. These are areas heavily affected by climate change, urbanisation, industrialisation and subsidence. But there are also emerging opportunities for these areas, such as sustainable agriculture, port development and economic growth. The similarity between Vietnam and the Netherlands also allows both to leverage the knowledge and expertise of each other in water and delta management. Meanwhile, the differences between the two also offer more opportunities to learn from each other.

Since both Vietnam and the Netherlands are highly vulnerable to climate change and both also face the challenges of subsidence, salinisation and polluted water, Dutch experts could play a role in creating a vision for a resilient and sustainable Mekong Delta with a flourishing agri-business sector. The Netherlands would like to contribute knowledge, share experience and stand side by side to help the Vietnamese government. That is the way Vietnam and the Netherlands have worked closely together on water and climate resilience for more than a decade now.

Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for Water Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, during an interview with Nhan Dan Online. (Photo: NDO/Trung Hung)

Q: The Mekong Delta is facing challenges related to water: too much water, too little water, salinisation and water pollution. Based on the experience of the Netherlands, could you make recommendations to help solve these issues in an integrated way to in order to come to sustainable, long term solutions?

A: Flooding, drought, salinity intrusion and water pollution are disrupting people’s daily lives and the economy. These challenges are partly the consequences of natural hazards such as cyclones, high tides, extreme weather and acidic soils. We cannot prevent these natural hazards from happening but we can mitigate their consequences and turn them into disruption disasters. As we all know, the Netherlands is living under the sea level and almost half of the country would flood without dykes. However, since the execution of delta plans, we were able to control the consequences of high water, thus preventing any casualties. Dykes, dunes, sluices, tidal gates, water retention areas, room for the river, etc. play important roles in flood prevention.

These experiences are always ready to be shared with Vietnam, taking into account the adaptation to the specifics of the Mekong Delta. Both countries signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement on Water Management and Climate Change Adaptation in 2010 and one of the highlights was the technical support to the Mekong Delta Plan.

As a lowland country, the Netherlands has a long history of living with water for centuries. Water issues are always present and the Dutch response is to always find solutions that involve all stakeholders. One of the guiding principles in the Dutch approach is that dykes and other hard infrastructure are not always necessary. Sustainable natural solutions are sometimes the best and least costly option.

By now many people know that flooding is not only bad. Flooding has positive effects, for instance it keeps the land fertile for crops. So, the Dutch experts advise the Vietnamese government on how to live with the floods. It is not about flood control but controlled flooding. The floods are beneficial but should not develop their destructive force, and controlled flooding needs a delta-wide perspective because preventing flooding in one place might cause flooding elsewhere.

In a similar way, salinity intrusion is not necessarily a disaster. It can be a resource for shrimp and fish farming. So, it again depends on the people whether a natural event has disastrous outcomes. Where disasters happen, the response should be build-back-better. A better response might be to switch to less risky crops, to embrace salinity and to build better value chains and price stability. In those ways we turn the vulnerable Mekong Delta into a more sustainable, resilient and prosperous area and we prevent a hazard from becoming a disaster. We turn challenges into opportunities, a phrase taken from Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

Q: What specific support will be given by the Netherlands in the future to promote the implementation of Resolution 120 on sustainable and climate-resilient development of the Mekong Delta?

A: Let me congratulate the Government of Vietnam on the adoption of Resolution 120. We are happy to see that this resolution builds on the Mekong Delta Plan and Dutch experiences. Development partners all praised the Resolution as a crucial step forward. It embraces “actively living with nature”. It calls for a different economic model - not quantity but quality, so not only short-term growth but sustainable development. It also proposes a delta fund with private finance. I want to express that the Dutch are ready to support the implementation and coordination processes of Resolution 120.

Since 2013, Vietnam has actively implemented the Mekong Delta Plan, with the help of development partners and the Netherlands. In recent years, integrated projects have been initiated to enhance the harmony between agriculture and water management. Research on the impact of groundwater absorption on land subsidence and increased salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta has also been conducted.

With the advent of Resolution 120, which highlights the need for strengthened coordination, both horizontally among relevant ministries and among localities, as well as vertically between the ministries and provinces concerned, the Netherlands will support the capacity to coordinate of those tasked with coordination, as well as the willingness to be coordinated of the other agencies. The agro-water transitions as outlined in Resolution 120 will receive further support from the Netherlands in future.

Thank you very much!