Mekong Delta in the Crossfire of Change

A new documentary film highlights the fragility of the Mekong Delta in the face of triple threats from rapid development, climate change and hydropower development.

Mekong: Viet Nam - the Delta film screening and panel discussion at FCCT

Bangkok, October 10, 2013 A new documentary film, Vietnam: the Delta had its inaugural screening in Bangkok today at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. The film highlights the significant threats to the Mekong Delta posed by climate change, ongoing development of dyke and canal systems, and the potential impacts of massive hydropower development both within Vietnam and in upstream countries. It also highlights the extraordinary resilience of the people of the Delta as they face these threats head-on.

Scientists predict more than half a metre of sea level rise within the next 50 years for the Delta, and a full metre within 100. That will put 20 percent of the Mekong Delta under water and salt water intrusion will make farming almost impossible. This situation is likely to be further exacerbated by the currently unknown impacts of massive hydropower dam development both within Vietnam and in upstream countries.

The 25-minute documentary follows the efforts of students and scientists from Can Tho University as they develop a resilience strategy for the many challenges facing the Mekong Delta. This independent film was directed and produced by Douglas Varchol, with funding provided by the CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food, the Mekong Water Dialogues, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and AusAID. It is a sequel to a previous film produced by these partners, entitled MEKONG, which debuted in August 2012.

“Our goal in supporting the production of this film was not to promote one form of development or another, but to make the facts available to people in an innovative way, and to prompt discussion around the issues,” said Dr Kim Geheb, Coordinator of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food in the Mekong. “We feel the film Mekong achieved this, with more than 100,000 people in the region and around the world having the opportunity to view it and be part of discussions over the past year. This new film focuses more specifically on the issues facing the Vietnam Delta, and we hope that it will spark similar conversations.”

The Mekong Delta represents a dynamic hydrological system that has been engineered by human society over many centuries for food production. Often described as Vietnam’s rice bowl, it is also home to a $2 billion a year aquaculture industry, with farmed fish from the delta providing over 20% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Vietnam has made remarkable strides in economic and social development in the past 20 years, with poverty levels falling from almost 60 percent to 20 percent. As incomes improve, this has also led to significant increases in demand for electricity, currently growing at an estimated 16-18 percent a year. The bulk of the current supply comes from hydrocarbons, but hydropower plays a growing role, both at home and throughout the Mekong Basin. In addition to the five dams on the China stretch of the Mekong mainstream, another 11 are being planned. One of those, the Xayaburi dam in Lao PDR, is already under construction.

“When dams are built, we often think about them in isolation”, added Dr Geheb. “But the Mekong is a highly integrated system. What happens in one part of the system has repercussions for other parts. It is the cumulative impact of many hydropower dams that concerns us, and how we can work to mitigate these impacts.”

The threats facing the Delta are myriad and complex. Scientists estimate that dams could seriously reduce the flow of sediments to the delta by as much as 50%. The 165 million tons of fresh sediment now deposited every year are essential to the continued high productivity of the delta. At the same time, the Delta is also threatened by more local concerns, including the ongoing building of dykes which alter the flow of floodwaters and have major implications for local fisheries.

“Sea level rise resulting from climate change is already a major concern in the Mekong Delta, and this is being exacerbated by a number of factors including groundwater extraction and the potential impacts of hydropower development,” said Dr. Robert Mather, Head of IUCN Southeast Asia Group. “On the positive side, however, we are seeing farmers proactively adapting to the situation -- transforming their livelihoods from freshwater to brackish-water based production systems and IUCN is supporting them with organic prawn farming systems that also maintain mangrove forests around the prawn ponds. This provides nature-based win-win-win solutions for local livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and climate change resilience.”


AusAID The Australian Government's overseas aid program is improving the lives of millions of people in developing countries. Australia is working with the governments and people of developing countries to deliver aid where it is most needed and most effective. Australian aid has helped our neighbours and countries further abroad to develop, and our aid program continues to grow. In Mekong region, AusAID helped build the first bridge across the region, boosting economic opportunities for millions of people living in the region.

The Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) was launched in 2002 as a reform initiative of the CGIAR. The CPWF aims to increase the resilience of social and ecological systems through better water management for food production (crops, fisheries and livestock). The CPWF is currently working in six river basins globally: Andes, Ganges, Limpopo, Mekong, Nile and Volta. CPWF is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems. The initiative combines the resources of 11 CGIAR centers, the FAO and numerous external partners to provide an integrated approach to natural resource management research. International Water Management Institute (IWMI) leads the program ( and

Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD) is coordinated and facilitated by IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature and supported by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. It was initiated to work with countries of the Mekong Region – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam – to improve water governance by facilitating transparent and inclusive decision-making to improve livelihood security, human and ecosystem health (

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) works according to directives of the Swedish Parliament and government to reduce poverty in the world. The overall goal of Swedish development cooperation is to contribute to making it possible for poor people to improve their living conditions. Swedish development cooperation is part of a global cooperation in which Sweden is one of many international participants. In order to carry out its work Sida cooperates with Swedish government agencies, organizations and associations and international bodies like the UN, the EU and the World Bank. Sida’s efforts are concentrated on issues where Sweden has specialist knowledge and experience and where there is the greatest demand for Swedish support.

For More information, please contact:

  • Dararat Weerapong, Senior Communications Officer, IUCN Southeast Asia Group
    Mobile: +66 (0) 895178543, Email:
  • Michael Victor, CPWF Communication Coordinator

    Mobile: +94773950713, Email:


Work area: 
Climate Change
Climate Change
Viet Nam
SEA Group
Project and Initiatives: 
Mekong Dialogues
Building Coastal Resilience
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