By Sau Nghe
Can Tho City, Vietnam, November 13, 2015
This story was produced and translated with support from The Mekong Eye and Mekong Matters Journalism Network, with full editorial control to the journalist and their outlet.
In mid August, many correspondents from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, China, and Britain came to Mekong River Delta. They wanted to witness the impacts of climate change, sea level rise and certainly mainstream dams upstream Mekong River, affecting the granary, fish, and shrimp of the world.
The correspondents concentrated in Can Tho, with the support of USAID and other agencies, for 3 days August 11-13 to discuss with the experts and also meet local people living on the rivers and the fields. Reporters from Tien Phong Newspaper were also present and talked with them.
Every morning Ms.Tran Minh Phung works in an eating house, and in the afternoon she works for whoever needs her. All the jobs that she works are unfamiliar with her because she was born and grew up in the fishery of her father on Hau River. Her husband is also a fisherman of Hau River. She followed her mother to trade on the river. However, fish stocks in Hau River gradually declined, her father passed away, her husband moved down to Kien Giang to fish in the sea and went missing 13 years ago. The canal from her home at number 80/5, Pham Ngu Lao Street, An Hoa ward (Ninh Kieu District, Can Tho) to Hau river was filled as a result of urbanization. 5 years ago, at age 44, she left the river to land to earn money for her children’s school fee, disabled brother and elderly mother. She sobbed: “life is just enough in terms of food, illnesses are unbearable without money”.
“What a brave woman!”, Ms. Zhang Chun, a correspondent of Chinadialoque uttered. Zhang Chun continued: “Ms. Phung was old but was dare to quit her familiar livelihood and found other job opportunities to support her family when the river had treated her badly”
Cai Rang floating market is amongst the largest ones in the Mekong River Delta. On the river flowing between Ninh Kieu and Cai Rang district of Can Tho city. Ms. Shwe Zin, correspondent of The Irrawaddy (Myanmar) said that Myanmar also has floating markets but in the lake between mountain valleys, and the water is dried out during dry season. Therefore, floating markets here are strange to her, not only in terms of traded goods, but also boatmen and the porters. Especially, the big and small boats are often crowded and chaotic, some of them stops, some stays static, some moves crazily but they never collide.
Reaching to the boat selling pineapples of a couple- Ms. Nguyen Thi Trinh and Mr. Le Thanh Phuong, they both have a darken skin colour and look older than 50. They said, they were originally from Tan Quoi ward (Binh Tan, Vinh Long) where there were limited productive land resource, so they have been trading on the river for 24 years to raise up their 3 children. Ms. Trinh sat on the prow of a swaying boat, spoke while peeling a pineapple: “Getting down to Kien Giang province to fill up the boat with 7 tonnes of pinapples for selling, one trip per week can make 2 million Dong profit, sometimes there is a loss. We have health insurance but not any social insurance”.
Hopping on the prow of that boat and sat with Ms. Trinh, then, at a cafe, Ms. Zhang Chun told with emotions “Ms. Trinh very courageous, lives a risky life, and can be thrown back in-land by the river any time, but she still smiles”. Extremely impressed by her, each boat is a family of adults and children, shabby but alert, always smile whilst handing the goods. “For me, those who live on the river are more straightforward than those in land. Their risks are also very high, if the water is shallow, they will lose their livelihoods, if the water rises too high, their houses in land will be flooded”, said Zhang Chun while drinking hot tea from her own bottle but not drinking ice water, she added that her father often drank hot tea in the early morning and she then has been addicted to that.
Fruit seller on the Mekong River near Can Tho (Photo: The Mekong Eye)
From the Cai Rang floating market, turning right to Cai Son canal is Area 6, An Binh Commune (Ninh Kieu District, Can Tho). A head person of the Area- Pham Van Suong is an over sixty year old man- slim and tall, and vivacious. Pointing at a row of cajuput piles along the riverbank connected by wires to keep hyacinth close to the verge, he introduced: “This is an ecologically protective embankment constructed in 2012 with supports from the Office of Climate Change of Can Tho city”
Within the first minutes of surprise, the story of life in the riverbank is bustling. Mr. Suong happily told, because of lowland areas, every year from September to November in the lunar calendar, floods often overflowed into the gardens. The floods have become more intensively at the moment and inches higher than in 10 years ago. There had been more engine boats so the riverbank was eroded seriously. The ecological embankment restraining hyacinth to protect from breaking waves, is made up of one to three layers depending depending on the intervals. The coupled riverside path was also improved to prevent flooding and protect homes and gardens.
The shady riverside road, full of wildflowers, there is a board filled with verse: “Together protect the riverfront/to prevent river erosion in our homeland”. Mr.Suong laughed pleasingly: “Our people made so it’s low cost, more than 2km on both sides costed only 800 million Dong. When it was done, we manage and fix the damage by ourselves. It is advantageous that the floating of hyacinth follows the rise of water columns to restrict breaking waves, it is not only to conserve the land, but also biodiversity and fisheries resources”. A correspondent of the Prachatai (Thailand)- Kongpob Areerat shared that concrete embankment is costly but after years erosion still occurs, ecological embankment on the other hand is less expensive and seems sustainable.
Ms. Shwe Zin of the Irrawaddy even saw the value of protecting local culture. According to her, sustaining the river, the river flow, habits and livelihoods of the people is sustaining the culture. Keeping enthusiasm with the story, she told, The Irrawaddy of her encompasses a digital newspaper, a weekly and a monthly magazine, Irrawaddy is the former name of the largest river in Myanmar, and it was renamed to the Ayeyarwaddy by the Government. “We insisted to keep the old name of the mother river and Myanmar’s culture. Right in the river’s upstream, in September 2011, the Government of Myanmar suspended a huge hydropower project that Chinese enterprises won the bid, due to the concerns for flow changes. I see in the Mekong River Delta, the community is actively protecting the rivers, “she smiled.
The Hidden story
In Tan An Fish Market at the end of famous Ninh Kieu Wharf, Mr. Le Quang Ba, deputy general manager of Can Tho Commercial Cooperation who manages the market said the daily consumption in the market is about 50-70 tonnes of fish, of which 85% is farmed. “Before, the fish here were mostly wildly exploited species, however at the moment the fish stocks in rives have been depleted”, he sadly told
Navin Singh Khadka, correspondent of BBC World Service first time came to Vietnam, expressed his opinion via the “hidden story” behind the beautiful rivers in the outside with gentle people. These are the problems of aquatic resources, water quality, and food safety. Navin Singh Khadka is a citizen of Nepal- a poor country in the Himalayas, and has been a correspondent of BBC for 15 years, specialised in the environmental aspect so he concerns about climate change. He saw the relationship amongst the fluctuations of flow in the Mekong Delta and the melted Himalayan glaciers, mainstream hydropower dams located upstream of Mekong river, sea level rise and river sand extraction.
Chea Vannak-Correspondent of The Khmer Time and Vida Teang of The Phnom Penh Post (Cambodia) are also interested in issues of riverbed sand extraction. Both of them spoke openly: “the more you see the riverbank is embanked, the more erosion happens. In Cambodia, the riverbank erosion occurs extensively due to uncontrolled sand extraction activities, regardless of oppositions by the local people, businesses are still in operation because these extraction activities are permitted by the Government”
The story of each human destiny related to the Mekong riverbank reflected the issues of the Mekong River basin- the transnational issues. Ms. Shwe Zin- a Burmese correspondent mentioned about the reposibilities of ASEAN. In particular, when she knew that the freight cooperation plan between Can Tho and Phnom Penh Port had just started, Shwe Zin dreamed about the longer connection possibly up to the Yellow River in China to gather more resources to protect the rivers.
And the responsibility of communication was evoked by Ms. Zhang Chun. She said, the China Dialogue Network (CDN) consists of 3 digital newspapers based in Beijing and branches in the capital of UK, India and Brazil. The network concerns about the issues of water resource risks and the environment in the Himalayas, the Mekong River, and Southeast Asia region, and most of articles were written by collaborators. “During three years working for the network, there was no articles about MRD, and Vietnam” She smiled in an unpredictable manner.
The MRD produces 24-25 million tonnes and exports 6-8 million tonnes of rice each year. In 2015, even the winter-spring and summer-autumn crop have reached to 20 million ton output, up to the end of July, 3.7 tonnes of rice have been exported. Besides, it produces 1.2 tonnes of catfish and more than 500,000 tonnes of shrimp, mainly for processing and exporting worldwide
Seller on the river (Photo: The Mekong Eye)