Fearing further erosion, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta residents fight sand exploitation

By Cuu Long, Kim Thoa   May 28, 2017 | 02:20 pm GMT+7
Fearing further erosion, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta residents fight sand exploitation
Locals on a Cu Islet of An Giang Province use boat to drive away ships exploiting sand. Photo by VnExpress/Kim Thoa

Locals are in uproar after An Giang announced sand dredging plans to save one commune from sliding into the river at the expense of another.

Locals on a small islet in An Giang Province have been doing their best to prevent sand exploitation on a branch of the Tien River that runs past their home after erosion swallowed up houses that used to stand 20 kilometers away.

They've been taking boats to areas where ships dredge for sand on the Cu Lao Gieng Canal and trying to drive the cranes away.

“People on Cu Islet earn a living from mango and corn plantations, but life has become more difficult in recent years with erosion eating into parts of the islet,” Pham Quoc Khanh, an islet resident in Tan My Commune, Cho Moi District, told VnExpress.

“It's even more difficult now as authorities have allowed companies to send ships here to dredge for sand. Our homes could fall into the river at any time, just like in My Hoi Dong Commune,” he said.

Late last month, erosion spread 50 meters inland along more than 160 meters (525 feet) along the Vam Nao River flowing through My Hoi Dong, sending 16 houses into the river and threatening to destroy more than 100 more.

Formed over 200 years ago, Cu Islet covers 48 hectares (118 acres) and is home to more than 200 households.

Lying in the middle of the Tien River, it is at serious threat from erosion, and locals have used their own money to build dykes.

“We’re extremely worried as ships have been sent near the islet to dredge for sand. We have had to stay alert around the clock to prevent ships from exploiting sand and so far they have halted operations,” a local named Dong said.

He added that authorities had not informed them about the dredging or asked for their opinion.

An Giang Province gaves its approval in early May for, companies to dredge 480,000 cubic meters of sand from the Cu Lao Gieng Canal.

Lam Quang Thi, the provincial chairman, said the project had been approved previously and would not lead to the erosion locals are scared of.

“Sand from this project will be used to shore up 107 households which are likely to be affected by erosion in My Hoi Dong Commune. Given the current emergency situation, the province has no other option but to take sand from the nearby area.”

Provincial authorities said they have made careful calculation for the project and will announce the plan to local residents next week.

Erosion in the Mekong Delta has been getting more and more serious and up to 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of land is swept away each year, according to official data from the agriculture ministry.

The decline of annual floodwaters that build up silt in the region and sand exploitation have been blamed as the two main reasons for the disaster.