Climate change to alter Mekong River Delta, study finds

Climate change could have vast implications for the Mekong River Delta in the coming decades, including affecting extreme weather, population migration and the ability of farmers to produce vital crops for hundreds of millions of people.

Those are some of the findings of a recent study from the Mekong ARCC, a five-year program funded by USAID.

Rice is a staple for half the world's residents. Climate change could affect the crop 's production in the Mekong Delta. (Photo: ARCC)
Rice is a staple for half the world’s residents. Climate change could affect the crop ‘s production in the Mekong Delta. (Photo: ARCC)

Dr. Jeremy Carew-Reid, lead author of the study, called it “shocking” and told Inside Climate News: “We’ve found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected.”

Those climate extremes could fundamentally alter the production of such staples as soya, maize, cassava and rice, according to the study.

One interesting note in the research is on rice cultivation, a key source of food and livelihood in the region. About half the world’s residents depend on rice as a main staple in their diet and a third of the world’s rice supply comes directly from the Mekong Delta, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. (You can download a 2012 FAO study on rice cultivation here.) Much of it comes from the rice fields in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Authors of the Mekong ARCC study say that an increase in seasonal rainfall could actually “increase the suitability for lowland rainfed rice culture,” but follow with a word of caution: “The model does not take in account extensive flooding or flash floods related to projected increased rainfall which past experience has shown to be extremely destructive of rice and other crops.”

Changes in rainfall and increased flooding could hit the Mekong in coming years. (Photo: ARCC)
Changes in rainfall and increased flooding could hit the Mekong in coming years. (Photo: ARCC)

Other key findings:

–Population growth is putting pressure on rural resources and could lead to a weakening of rural communities’ ability to adapt to climate change, leading to shifts in migration, especially from rural to urban areas.

–Deforestation and illegal logging could continue to affect “floods, landlsides and land degradation,” further worsening climate change’s influence in the region.

–Hydropower projects in the area could contribute to more environmental risks, by contributing to “forced relocation” and “food insecurity” for residents.

You can access the full study and supporting documents here.

The Mekong ARCC team is inviting public comment on the draft report until April 12. Know of some good community groups, farmers or local residents in the Mekong area? I think it would be great to have their voices help shape this study. Comments to Mr. Simon Tilleard: simon.tilleard@icem.com.au.

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