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Expert questions need for major irrigation projects in Mekong Delta
By Trung Chanh
Saturday,  Sep 8, 2018,16:48 (GMT+7)

Expert questions need for major irrigation projects in Mekong Delta

By Trung Chanh

A view of the Cai Be River in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang – PHOTO: HOA HOI

CAN THO - The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, along with local governments in the Mekong Delta, have continued to voice support for construction of the Cai Lon-Cai Be irrigation project, though one expert has raised questions about the plans.

The Cai Lon-Cai Be irrigation project, which is within the Ca Mau peninsula area, covers more than 909,000 hectares in the Mekong Delta provinces of Hau Giang, Kien Giang, Ca Mau, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu and Can Tho City.

In phase one, the project is expected to solve problems concerning saltwater and conflicts between coastal aquaculture and agriculture in Kien Giang, Hau Giang and Bac Lieu in the Cai Lon-Cai Be river basin area, promote stable aquaculture in Kien Giang’s coastal areas, assist  with climate change issues, and resolve freshwater shortage in the dry season. It is also meant to prevent forest fires, contribute to economic development and social stability, strengthen drainage, reduce alkaline build-up in soil, and develop water and road transport in the project area.

Addressing a conference on the project’s phase one, held in Kien Giang Province on September 7, provincial chairman Pham Vu Hong said that Kien Giang suffers from tides from the western sea and is highly vulnerable to climate change. Also, the province has been facing problems due to saltwater intrusion, shortage of freshwater and extreme, abnormal weather conditions, he added.

Therefore, the building of the Cai Lon-Cai Be irrigation works is necessary and construction should begin soon, according to Hong.

Hau Giang Province also seeks the early completion of this project in order to assist with controlling drought, saltwater intrusion and rising sea levels, said Nguyen Van Dong, director of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

According to Do Duc Dung, head of the Southern Institute of Water Resources Planning, the project area is expected to be hit hard by climate change and rising sea levels.

Based upon climate change scenarios issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Dung said that if the sea level increases by 65 centimeters, nearly the entire area could become flooded, affecting 3.6 million people. If the sea level rises 100 centimeters, the Ca Mau peninsula area, Rach Gia, Hon Dat and Ha Tien areas will be flooded, or nearly 39% of the Mekong Delta region.

Reservoir operations in upstream areas and water projects in Thailand also have negative impacts on the project area, Dung added.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Huu Thien, an independent expert, said that he personally has many concerns about the Cai Lon-Cai Be irrigation project. Thien presented eight issues that he believes need thorough consideration, including operation schedules, urgency, feasibility of the project, environmental impact assessments and accountability.

According to Thien, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has not provided details of operation schedules, whereas related documents have constantly presented climate change threats. In particular, the operation schedule is too optimistic, impractical and based on a 2018 scenario, though the irrigation project is expected to impact the area for 100 years.

In addition, the scenario with the sea level rising by 100 centimeters is an assumption and highly unlikely, Thien said. He added that if this happens, it will occur at the end of the century, which is 80 years from now.

Also, using future threats to spend trillions of dong on the project is not right, according to Thien.

Regarding accountability, Thien said that with this large-scale project, which greatly affects the environment and runs counter to the Government’s Resolution 120, there must be someone who is assigned responsibility for the project, in case it receives approval.

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