Double whammy: Coastal erosion, land sinkage plague Mekong Delta

By Hoang Nam   November 13, 2019 | 09:45 pm PT
Co Thanh Binh's family has lost two houses and 200 square meters of land in Tien Giang Province to subsidence in the last decade.

The 23-year-old said in 2009 his family spent years of savings from clam fishing to build a proper house. But the land beneath began to subside gradually, and within two years the house had collapsed.

The devastated family remained in the collapsing home for a while before moving out to a ramshackle house 100 meters away, watching years of hard work go down the drain.

But their new home became the next victim. They also lost a 200 sq.m plot of land, which forced them to move to a makeshift home on a piece of land belonging to Binh’s uncle.

Binh, his wife and their two-year-old baby are living with his parents.

Their restroom, situated next to the house, has begun to tilt alarmingly and is in serious danger of toppling over though Binh has propped it up with logs and cables.

Co Thanh Binh stands next to his homes toilet. To its immediate right lies his familys current refugee after their previously two homes collasped due to the coastal erosion. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam

Co Thanh Binh stands next to the restroom in his old house. To its right is the family’s current ramshackle home after their previous two homes collapsed due to land subsidence. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam.

The cement floor of their house has cracked, revealing the earth underneath with a five-square-meter fracture.

It is now the storm season and strong winds could bring it down.

Numerous residents have been forced to leave behind everything in the run from the increasing coastal erosion in the Mekong Delta province.

Next door to Binh's stands a house abandoned by his neighbor years ago. Its owner migrated elsewhere to escape what increasingly resembles a disaster zone.

Undisturbed sleep at night is a luxury here. There are nights when the sea, which is a few meters away, enters Binh's home and everyone in the family has to get up and clean the mess the water leaves behind.

The family has suffered from coastal erosion too, another major problem here.

"I sleep holding my child tight every night, so that if I hear waves hitting our wall hard I am ready to run out of the house in case it collapses," Binh says.

Binh's octogenarian grandmother used to live with them, but she was unable to cope with the constant fleeing from the erosion and subsidence, and so was sent to live with a relative.

"If the water continues to invade, our seven-member family will have to rent a cheap room because we have nowhere else to go," Binh's mother despairs.

Theirs is not an isolated case. There are dozens of houses within a kilometer of each other in Cau Muong Hamlet in Tien Giang that have collapsed or are badly damaged or abandoned.

Nguyen Thi Loan, 48, was looking for scrap she could salvage from two collapsed houses near her home that were a pile of bricks and debris. Le Thanh Trung, 32, and his brother, 30, used to live there until 2013.

Nguyen Thi Loan, 48 searches for scrap to sell on a rumble that used to be the houses of her neighbors. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam

Nguyen Thi Loan, 48, searches for scrap in what used to be her neighbors’ houses. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam.

It was the younger brother's house that was first destroyed by land subsidence, and he, his wife and two children moved in with Trung.

Then Trung's house was hit by the waves, which punctured holes in the walls while the floor was damaged as the land underneath subsided.

Trung, his wife and their two young kids have built a makeshift home on a neighbor's land and moved in. The couple catch clams for a living and are listed as a poor household by the hamlet. Trung's brother lives with his parents-in-law.

Nguyen Thi My Xuan, 29, lulling her niece to sleep in a hammock, says her family lives in mortal fear that their house, situated 100 meters from shore, will be the next to go.

She says it costs tens of millions to 100 million dong (VND1 million = $43) to build a small house, and most people there eke out a living from fishing.

"I work in a café and also guard bikes for clam catchers, and earn just a few million dong a month. It requires more than 10 years of saving plus loans to build a house. Who would not feel distressed seeing it crumbling to the ground?"

An abandoned home in the face of the coastal erosion. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam

A home abandoned by the sea in Tien Giang Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam.

According to Duong Thanh Hung, chairman of the Tan Thanh Commune People's Committee, the sea is advancing by five to ten meters inland every year.

The commune is also suffering from land sinkage, he says.

"The nine-kilometer sea embankment in the area has been severely affected by the subsidence, causing 20 families to lose their homes and threatening more than 200 other households outside the embankment."

The commune is building a resettlement area for the 20 families. It is 40 percent complete and authorities expect to relocate them there next year.

According to Tien Giang authorities, erosion is occurring at 110 places in the province, affecting 24 kilometers of coast. It is especially bad at seven locations, including the Go Cong embankment where Binh's family lives.

The 21-km dyke runs through Tan Dien, Tan Thanh, Kieng Phuoc and Vam Lang towns, protecting around 600,000 people and 35,000 hectares of agricultural land.

The province has asked the government for VND140 billion ($6 million) to grow protective forests and build more embankments to combat the erosion.

The Mekong Delta has a total of over 500 places adding up to over 800 kilometers where the coast is eroding. Each year 300 hectares of land and coastal mangroves are lost and more than 19,000 families living along rivers are moved to safer areas.

Delta provinces have been provided with more than VND16 trillion ($690 million) in the last decade for projects to prevent erosion, including the planting of over 4,300 hectares of mangroves. Another 3,000 hectares of forests will be planted.

The government is expected to allocate another VND4.5 trillion ($194 million).

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