Water for Food

Groundwater in the Mekong Delta

November 26, 2014

Sunrise over the Saigon River.

Sunrise over the Saigon River.

By Richael K. Young, DWFI Program Associate

The Mekong River is one of the world’s largest rivers. Its headwaters are in China and it runs south through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and finally, Vietnam, where it empties into the sea through the Mekong Delta, a complex network of smaller rivers. Known as the “Nine Dragons Delta” in Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is home to almost 20 million people whose livelihoods depend on fisheries, aquaculture, and agriculture. Despite the abundance of surface water in the area, there is large-scale groundwater pumping for food production, industry, and household needs, and the number of co-existing and connected groundwater management challenges is staggering.

This month, I traveled with DWFI Director of Policy Nick Brozović and incoming postdoc Tim Foster to Vietnam to learn about the region and to take part in the Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative’s Inception Workshop. The Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative is a collaborative effort of USAID and the Harvard Kennedy School that is housed at the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City. The workshop brought together local and international researchers and collaborators – including some from the University of Nebraska and the Harvard Kennedy School – to discuss the pressing issues the region faces today. Among them? Groundwater management, where high-value aquaculture is pumping large volumes of groundwater, sometimes with irreversible consequences. The problems won’t be easily addressed as there are multiple layers of geophysical and social challenges in the Delta: goals for poverty alleviation and economic growth conflict with the negative impacts of pumping, such as seawater intrusion, aquifer depletion, arsenic contamination, and land subsidence, which contribute to low-yielding crop production, financial stress, and poor health.

As part of the partnership, DWFI staff and faculty will study policy options and their implications for managing groundwater in the Delta. Further, DWFI is planning to develop technical training seminars for local partners and stakeholders. Our team hopes these activities will support local needs for a viable economy that lasts for generations to come, and that our work will be the start of a long relationship with our Vietnamese partners.

DWFI director of policy Nick Brozovic presenting at the LMPPI Inception Workshop.

Dwfi director of policy Nick Brozovic presenting at the LMPPI Inception Workshop.

DWFI post-doctorate Tim Foster and Richael Young at the US Consulate General's home.

DWFI post-doctorate Tim Foster and Richael Young at the US Consulate General’s home.

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