Thứ Sáu, 3 tháng 10, 2014


FOREWORD: This is the second of three articles entitled “A Look Forward into the Next Half Century” discussing the prospects confronting the Mekong Delta. The first article offers an overview of the situation with this main conclusion: the governments of the countries bordering the Mekong are still convinced that hydropower remains the least expensive source of energy to sustain their nations’ pace of economic development. Sooner or later, the exploitation of the hydropower potentials of the Mekong will prove to be an irreversible process that will forge ahead over the last half of this century regardless of the impacts that may be brought to bear on the eco-system of the Mekong, particularly of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. 

The readers should be reminded of this historical fact: it is the Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nguyen Manh Cam, who signed the Agreement to establish the Mekong River Commission in 1995. This Agreement contains a fundamental change that robs the member countries of their power to “veto” any projects they deem detrimental to the river or to the neighboring states. More than once, the author has expressed his reservations on this issue and emphasized that Vietnam has committed a strategic mistake when it agreed to this change because this country lies at the southern end of the river.

In the face of overwhelming pressure from the member nations in the Lower Mekong Basin, and from the international community, the government of Laos has consented to suspend for the moment the construction of the hydroelectric dam Xayaburi (1,260 MW). This dam is the first of the nine Laos plans to build on the main current of the Mekong. The Laos government’s decision is hailed as a “victory” by the International Rivers Network (IRN) and other environmental activists despite the fact it is only temporary in nature.

China built two dams upstream the Mekong: the Xiaowan (4,500 MW) and Nuozhadu (5,850 MW). Each of them boasts individual outputs that are approximately five times that of the Xayaburi dam. The Xiaowan’s reservoir alone reports a capacity that is greater than those of the 11 other dams combined. In spite of those worrisome statistics and in total disregard to oppositions from the world’s public opinion, China shows no sign of relenting on its efforts to exploit the hydroelectric potentials of the Mekong. The difference, here, is glaring: China, a big country that aspires to become a superpower, can behave with the dictum “might makes right” while Laos, a poor and small nation that depends on outside aids must be responsive to foreign powers in the implementation of its projects . 

Vietnam may be the nation on record that raised the strongest objections against the Xayaburi project. If so, it would find itself in an awkward position to justify the participation of its state-owned company Petrovietnam Power Company in the construction of the hydroelectric dam on the Mekong’s main current named Luang Prabang (1,410 MW) which is larger than the Xayaburi dam. For the “Spirit of the Mekong” to become a reality, it is imperative that Vietnam desists from adhering to such “double standard”. 


Granted that the exploitation of the Mekong’s potentials for hydroelectricity is almost an irreversible process, we still have the right and duty to demand transparency and reliability in the assessments of ecological impacts to ensure a policy of sustainable development.

We do need time to mount advocacy campaigns not only at the regional but also at the global levels. The pro-active experience with the Xayaburi Dam represents a welcome lesson for all. At the same time, we cannot overlook the peculiarities that apply mainly to Laos’ case. It would be hard to imagine that a postponement could be achieved if instead of the Xayaburi Dam and the Vientiane government, we have to deal with the Sambor and Stung Treng Dams and the Prime Minister of Cambodia, Mr. Hun Sen, who persistently argues that carbon dioxide emission and climate change are the real culprits not the hydroelectric dams in China. (6)


The following accumulative impacts are posing a threat to the Mekong Delta:
  1. The hydroelectric dams built upstream; in particular the ones in the series of the Mekong Cascades in Yunnan, China; and their mammoth reservoirs are reducing the water and the alluvium flow to the Mekong Delta. On top of that, the cutting down of mangrove forests, those natural barriers against seawater intrusion, brought about salinization in a good part of the basin in the South of Vietnam and soil erosions at the Ca Mau Peninsula.

  2. Global warming resulting from the emission of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal and oil causes the melting of glaciers at the North and South Poles as well as the Tibetan Highland also known as the Third Pole. Consequently, we are now witnessing a rise in the sea level. Scientists studying climate changes estimated that the sea level could rise from 0.80 meter to 1.5 meters by the year 2100. Should the sea level rise by only 1 meter, then, 75% of the Mekong Delta will be submerged under the water. [Figure 1]

Figure 1: Mekong Delta zones below mean sea level (in violet)

Confronted with the prospect of a Mekong Delta, the traditional rice bowl of the entire country, being threatened by a penury of fresh water, soil erosion, and seawater intrusion; Vietnam has no other alternative but implement a mega-project that calls for the construction of: 1) a multi-purpose dyke to prevent seawater intrusion and 2) two fresh water reservoirs in the natural depressions at Dong Thap Muoi and Dong Ca Mau.

This second article has the main objective of presenting the major outlines of the Multi-Purpose Sea Dyke Project for the Mekong Delta. The idea is still in its conceptual phase and technical studies are being done jointly by Ngo Minh Triet, P.E., structural engineer and Pham Phan Long, P.E., of the Friends of the Mekong Group. Pham is also a founding member of the Viet Ecology Foundation.


As implied by its name, the main objective of the sea dyke is to prevent salinization resulting from a rise in the sea level coupled with a diminishing “minimum current flow” running down from upstream the Mekong to its Delta.

The strategic implications and long-term benefits to be derived from this project are manifold. They include: (1) prevention of salt intrusion and preservation of the eco-system in the Mekong Delta; (2) ability to control floods and droughts and solve the problem of fresh water shortage; (3) revitalization of the economic production in the basin by providing a strategic highway system along the coast; (4) raising the quality of life for the Mekong Delta’s inhabitants in regards to its cultural, educational, and health aspects which are sliding down the dangerous road of degradation.

The immediate advantages are: considering that the dyke system is not located on land but offshore, no acquisition of private land is required and no opposition from the displaced population is to be expected. By the same token, since the proposed dyke is situated from 3 to 5 kilometers off the coastlines, there would be numerous reservoirs built in the buffer zone between the dyke and natural coastlines. With time, rain water combined with the fresh water flowing down from the rivers will help reduce the salinity of the water in those reservoirs. The resulting brackish water will allow for the raising of aquatic crops like sea crabs, shrimps and bring in a substantial source of revenue.

The sea dyke will prevent soil erosions and help in the land conservation efforts. In addition, it will introduce a land reclamation program adding new land for farming and opportunities to build new cities. This must be regarded as one of the major returns on the substantial initial investment cost of the project.

The sea dyke will also serve as a beltway of the Mekong Delta. In engineer Ngo Minh Triet’s calculation, the dyke’s surface may measure up to 24 meters wide – large enough to construct a two-way highway which is indispensable for the maintenance of the dyke. Moreover, it also holds strategic implications in matters of transportation, economics and defense - especially at this time when the East Sea is in turmoil due to the ongoing conflict between China, the giant in the north, and its Southeast Asian neighbors. [Figure 2]

Figure 2: Proposed 600 km Mekong Sea Dyke (broken blue line); sea depths 10m, 20m (yellow lines)
Experts in renewable energy believe that wind or sun are abundant along the sea dyke and can be harnessed.

Valuable real estate developments can also be possible along the sea dyke. Another source of considerable revenue that should not be overlooked is the development of ecotourism offering land sports like biking… or water sports like waterskiing, boat racing, fishing.... the primary goal is to attract foreign tourists to the region and improve the cultural and material life of the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta who greatly deserve it.

The geological composition of the sea bed in the vicinity of the coastlines off the Mekong Delta is as follows: 65% silt, 25% clay, and the remainder sand. The offshore area close to the coast is rather shallow and flat. It has an incline of 0.8:1000 around the estuaries and 5.0:1000 at the Ca Mau Peninsula.

The sea dyke will hug the coastline at an average depth of 3 meters. It will run from Go Cong in the east, go around the Ca Mau Peninsula and end at Ha Tien in the west. Its length will be about 600 kilometers measured from satellite photographs.

At the estuaries, sections of the dyke will be connected to each other by a network of movable bridges to ensure unhindered two-way boat traffic between the sea and the Mekong, all the way to Phnom Penh, considering that this river is an international waterway.

The labor force and technology employed will be for the most part local. The raw materials used will consist mainly of clay and sand taken from the seabed. They will be reinforced with pebbles, concrete cement and held in geotextile containers made of durable and water-absorbent polyesters. The sand thus recovered from the sea can also be used to make new beaches outside the dyke walls. [Figure 3]

Inland ports like Can Tho will be relocated outside the dyke. Highways in fan shape will spread out from the dyke to the estuaries leading to the cities, towns or other important locations in the Mekong Delta. The ensuing shorter travel time will contribute immensely to the economic development as well as prosperity of the Mekong Delta.

From its conception, this project was envisioned to benefit not only Vietnam but the entire Greater Mekong Subregion. Its implementation would require “decades” of work and its budget would reach in the tens of billions of U.S. Dollars coming from: 1) Vietnam’s national budget; 2) foreign aids from the United States, Japan, Australia, Germany, Denmark… 3) International institutions like the World Bank (WB), the Asia Development Bank (ADB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), World Wide Fund (WWF), Oxfam International, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)…Over the past years, several of those organizations have shown interest in and extended their aids to a number of provinces like Ben Tre, Tra Vinh, Soc Trang to preserve the mangrove forests and save the rice paddies or orchards that were being critically threatened by salinization. Unfortunately, their efforts only met with partial success due to the limited scope of their programs.

The Multi-Purpose Sea Dyke Project proposes an all inclusive and optimum solution for the Mekong Delta which is treated as an integrated eco-system. An initial estimate of the project indicates that its cost should not exceed the US$ 56 billion the Vietnamese government once earmarked for the High-Speed Train Project that was enmeshed in much controversy in recent past.

And most importantly, we need the participation of a “think tank” consisting of experts from different disciplines like hydrologists, geological surveyors, climatologists, ecologists …and Vietnamese of all walks of life both inside and outside the country. It would be also beneficial if experts with vast experience from the Netherlands/le Pays Bas and South Korea (the Saemageum Seawall Project) are invited to participate in this effort. In addition, the Mississippi River Commission, could be convinced to share its rich experience with dykes and dams with the project’s administrators. Through the initiative of the American Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, this Commission has established a sister relationship with the Mekong River Commission in July, 2009. (5)


It is hard to visualize in anybody’s mind that in the second half of the 21st century, the following ominous scenario could possibly take place: the Mekong Delta, that rice bowl of the whole country, would no longer exist while the Tien and Hau would turn into dead rivers because the fresh water that customarily flows down from the north is being retained in the dam reservoirs upstream and replaced by the sea water intruding from the rising East Sea. In another word: The Civilization of Orchard, that lively and youthful symbol of the entire country, would sadly become a cherished past.

Confronted with such gloomy prospect, a question immediately comes to mind: “What must we do?” The answer to that question surely requires a lot of hard thinking on the part of the people. To come up with a “great idea” they will have to summon up novel thoughts, innovative approaches, and unyielding determination.

To preserve this land of destiny and this sacred ground of the Vietnamese people, we must remind ourselves that the time needed to complete this project may be longer than a human lifespan and there can be no bargaining on its price tag.

The fact that Vietnam, throughout its long history, is scourged by constant warfare may partly explain why our ancestors did not leave us with impressive monuments or notable construction works. Now is the time for the Vietnamese to leave behind them a “Culture of War” to embrace a “Culture of Peace”. Should this project be adopted, it would mark a construction endeavor not only crucial for the people’s survival but also a major pioneering “Green Growth Project” and an ecological building feat in this Millennium of the Vietnamese. In this Green Revolution, Vietnam - if she so chooses - can be the standard bearer and a commendable example for the Greater Mekong Subregion.


To this day, Thailand and Vietnam remain the two top rice producers in the world. But the irony is: the farmers in the Mekong Delta still live under the “poverty level” while their offspring are facing the prospect of losing their “living space”. Furthermore, the world population is growing at an exponential rate in spite of a decline in the major food sources. For the Mekong Delta, the peril is two pronged: it emanates from the dams built upstream by the Chinese in the north and the rising seawater caused by global warming flowing in from the East Sea in the southeast.

To save the Mekong Delta does not simply mean to save a fertile region of Vietnam. It also implies the preservation of an important rice bowl of the world. The advisor on climate changes to the United Nations, Mr. Koos Neefjes, had this “inconvenient truth” to say: “Climate change isn’t caused by a developing country like Vietnam, but it is suffering the consequences” (1)

Looking at the issue from the above perspective, we can say that the participation of the developed countries in the Multi-Purpose Sea Dyke Project is an act of “social justice” to fulfill an international obligation in this era of globalization.

California, 05-25-2011
[Source: http//]

  1. Mekong Sea Dyke, A Concept Paper / Draft, April, 2011, Ngo Minh Triet, P.E.; Pham Phan Long, P.E., Viet Ecology Foundation

  2. Lancang-Mekong Initiative_ A Foundation for the Long Term Cooperation and Prosperity for Chian and ASEAN, Pham Phan Long, P.E., Viet Ecology Foundation Jan, 2011,

  3. Mekong-Cuu Long 2011_ A Look Forward Into the Next Half Century[1]; Ngo The Vinh, M.D. Viet Ecology Foundation, Jan 11, 2011,

  4. US – Mekong Basin Cooperation follows ASEAN Meeting, Vientiane, Laos PDR, Jul 30, 2009,

  5. Mekong-Mississippi Sister-River Partnership_ Similarities and Differences; Ngo The Vinh, M.D. Viet Ecology Foundation, Aug 2009,

  6. Hun Sen backed China’s often-criticized development plans for the Mekong River, Phnom Penh, Jun 29, 2005, (AFP)

  7. Hun Sen denies China Dams Impacts; Thomas Miller & Cheang Sokha; Phnom Penh Post, Nov 17, 2010

  8. The Mekong, Environment and Development, Hiroshi Hori, United Nations, University Press, Tokyo 2000

  9. Vung Đat Ngap Đong Thap Muoi, Tran Nguon Phieu, The Ky 21 so 219, July, 2007

  10. On the Mekong, A Better Way. Qin Hui, Economic Observer. Where China and the World Discuss the Environment. December 25, 2010.

  11. Vietnam Finds Itself Vulnerable if Sea Rises; Seth Mydans. The New York Times, September 24, 2009

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