EARTH Thailand

‘Environmental refugees’ in Mekong River Delta expected in future, experts say

VietNamNet Bridge 02 November 2016

Vietnam, especially the Mekong River Delta, has been warned for 20 years that it will be one of the areas to suffer most seriously from climate change.

An environmental refugee is defined by Prof Essam El-Hinnawi as someone forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption.

Vietnam, instead of ‘environmental refugees’, uses the world ‘resettlement’ or ‘migration’, because ‘refugee’ proves to be a ‘sensitive word’ in Vietnamese. 

Meanwhile, the government of Vietnam believes that changes in people’s domiciles are implemented in accordance with plans drawn up and controlled by local authorities.

Tran Le Tra from WWF Vietnam, in an article published on, wrote that it is difficult to count the number of Vietnamese migrating within the country. 

The 2009 housing and population census conducted by the Ministry of Planning and Investment found that 6.6 million out of 85,789,573 people migrated in 2004-2009.

At leadt 29 out of every 1,000 people migrated in 1999, while the figure rose to 43 in 2009. 

Most of the people had to move to other localities because of economic reasons. Farmers lost land due to commercialization, lost jobs due to mechanization in agriculture production and lost livelihoods because of natural calamities and infrastructure development. 

They were also attracted by better job opportunities and income in urban areas.

However, many of them had to leave the homeland because they had no other choice. 

Farmers in Mekong River Delta, for example, had to migrate to avoid floods. In other cases, they had to leave because of the unanticipated impact from hydropower plants.

The water storage and discharging of the hydropower dams on Vu Gia – Thu Bon valley, for example, have led to changes in the streams and large-scale landslides, which forced riverside villagers to evacuate to other areas.

In implementing the 2,400 MW Son La hydropower plant project alone, 20,340 households with 92,301 residents in three provinces of Dien Bien, Son La and Lai Chau had to migrate to resettle in other areas.

Meanwhile, there are 7,500 hydropower plants, dams, water reservoirs and irrigation works on 10 major river systems in Vietnam. This means that the number of people having to leave for resettlement in other areas is very high.

By the end of the 21st century, the entire coastal strip of Vietnam may see the sea water level rise by 57-73 cm, while the areas in Mekong Delta, from Ca Mau to Kien Giang provinces, would see the largest sea-level rise of up to 105 cm.

IPCC estimates that Vietnam may lose 2.5 million hectares of land and 10 million would have to leave their villages.