I am standing on the shore of Bến Tre Province in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. One of the first questions is, would I be able to stand here in a few months’ time?
If you look just a few hundred meters out to sea, that was cultivable land up to three years ago. In the last three years this village has lost half of its land. Sea incursion is just one of the complex challenges that the authorities and the people who live in the Mekong Delta have to juggle at the same time. So the Mekong Delta, the decisions that are made here are affected by the upstream decisions of hydroelectric planning, irrigation, and other freshwater use. By the time the water gets here, some of that freshwater which is needed is no longer available.
That fresh water is more important now because with saline intrusion, as salt water is moving up the rivers, traditional rice agriculture is threatened. At the same time the people who live here have seen the growth of the shrimp industry and are choosing shrimp farming over rice farming.
The traditional sea defenses are being challenged by sea level rise and the saline intrusion means that massive investment is needed in sluice gates across the Mekong Delta, and there needs to be a mixture of mangrove restoration and manmade sea defenses in order to hold that saline intrusion back.
There are millions of people who live here and hundreds of thousands of peoples whose livelihoods depend on this balance between seawater and freshwater. What climate change is doing is intensifying the threat, as this incursion shows, and adding uncertainty to the complexity of the decision making process.
The role of the World Bank Group, together with the Dutch government and IFAD and many many others, is to support a decision making process under uncertainty in an area which is fragile, yet fertile, which for thousands and thousands of years so many people have depended upon; not just those who live here, but those who live upstream. And it is in the Mekong that we will either find the answers to climate change in terms of resilience and adaptation or where we will lose the battle against an unstoppable force.
World Bank Group Vice President & Special Envoy for Climate Change