Opinion: The Mekong Delta is drowning in ‘sand debt’ – it urgently needs a sand budget

any people will be familiar with the dread when your income no longer covers your expenses; when you’ve exhausted your savings and are sinking ever deeper into debt. In the Mekong Delta, a similar downward spiral is happening. But it’s not the delta’s finances that are draining away – it’s the sand that sustains it. Not its economic stability that is being undermined, but its very foundations.

The Mekong is literally drowning in ‘sand debt’: far more sand is being removed than is being replenished. Without a budget setting out how much sand can be extracted sustainably, this debt will turn into disaster.

If you only look at the headline figures, all seems well with Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and the connected Dong Nai Delta – home to a combined 40 million people, growing cities, thriving economies, and a major regional rice bowl and seafood source. But a closer look reveals some real cause for alarm. The Mekong Delta is sinking. Saltwater is intruding ever further inland. The water table is dropping. All these come with significant costs to communities and nature, as infrastructure, livelihoods and the survival of species are negatively affected.

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Marc Goichot