The Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership (SIP) and its partners launched the first Mekong Virtual Symposium today, focusing on issues of drought and salinity intrusion in the Mekong Delta. More than 200 participants registered for the one and a half-hour session online, which discussed ways in which the Mekong Delta in Vietnam—an important agricultural production area—can combat crop losses and other impacts of saltwater in delta ecosystems. 

Saltwater intrusion in the Mekong River has become an increasing problem due to drought, sea-level rise, and dam and infrastructure development. These issues affect the people of the Mekong Delta, who rely on river-related ecosystems for irrigation, fisheries, transport and drinking water.

People of the Mekong Delta rely on the river for irrigation, fisheries, and transport.

Dr Nguyen Houng Thuy Phan, a specialist in water and climate change, moderated the session. Currently located at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, Dr Nguyen has worked in hydropower development, coastal engineering and climate change risk assessment programs around the Mekong region. The panel of speakers comprised US and Mekong-based experts, who shared their views and perspectives on measures to address these wide-ranging challenges. The panel included:

  • Dr Van Pham Dang Tri, a hydrodynamics modeler and head of the Water Resources Department at Can Tho University;
  • Nguyen Hong Phuong, a senior administrator and deputy director-general of the Viet Nam National Mekong Committee secretariat; 
  • Kib Jacobson, economist and program manager at the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program; and
  • Malcolm Wilson, engineer and chief of the Water Resources Group, US Bureau of Reclamation.

The lively discussion, in both English and Vietnamese, included a Q&A session between participants and speakers. Participants raised questions about existing legal frameworks for delta management in the Mekong, the role of the Viet Nam National Mekong Committee (VNMC), how to avoid duplication of data-sharing efforts by various institutions, including the Mekong River Commission (MRC), and using data as a basis for early warning, stakeholder dialogue, and policy development. Participants questioned how to move beyond data-sharing approaches if these are not effective, touching on the limits of the 1995 Mekong Agreement among the Lower Mekong Basin countries, the role of courts in resolving water-related conflict, and the need for inclusive engagement of stakeholders. Other topics raised were the projected impacts of drought and salinity on rural-urban migration patterns in the Mekong Delta, and the need for adaptation to new conditions induced by climate change and other kinds of disruptions in the region. 

The First Mekong Virtual Symposium was supported by the US Department of State under the Lower Mekong Initiative. It builds on existing efforts in the Mekong region, including the Mekong Water Data Initiative, to strengthen collaboration and dialogue on water issues and solutions. As part of the US ‘Vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific’, the US Government encourages information sharing, dialogue, collaboration and stakeholder engagement for cooperative, responsible management of the Mekong River. 

While the salinity discussions were the first in the series, further online dialogues are planned to take place quarterly. Future topics will cover issues such as sand mining in the Mekong River, groundwater management, the Tonle Sap Lake, plastics and marine debris in the Mekong and other emerging issues. The dialogues aim to build trust among partners and stakeholders, and to strengthen cooperation not only on water issues but more broadly for natural resources management. 

Recordings of the event in English and Vietnamese are available, and all presentations from the Mekong Virtual Symposium can be accessed here