Two years ago, Thuân invited us for dinner at his house in Hanoi. He is the water engineer whose expertise supported all the irrigation and drinking water projects that Linda, Phưng and I implemented in northern Vietnam in the early 1990s.   Thuân and his wife Binh have remained close friends. Their boys are now fathers so Lina and I now visit three generations of the family.

At that dinner in 2013, I talked with their son who was completing a Ph.D. in hydrology in Germany. His subject was how to mitigate the effects of climate change through the management of water. Climate change is a fact for the Vietnamese. He told me there is no debate about whether or not it is happening, or whether human action has anything to do with it. How far ahead of us in the US the Vietnamese are in this respect! They are not wasting time arguing the obvious.

A ship moving containers in the port of Dong Nai

A ship moving containers in the port of Dong Nai

Containers line both sides of the road near the Dong Nai River.

Containers line both sides of the road near the Dong Nai River.

A friend told me that Vietnam is among the ten most vulnerable countries in the world to rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. The Mekong Delta is Vietnam’s food basket, producing 50% of the country’s rice harvest as well as 70% of its fruit and seafood (Vietnam News, 2/3/15). This rich land averages one meter above sea level. As water is pumped out of the aquifer for agriculture and the needs of the Delta’s exploding industrial sector and growing population, the land subsides. As fresh water is removed, salt water infiltrates.   There is some evidence that the typhoons that cross the Philippines to the coast of Vietnam’s central region are now shifting toward the south, bringing higher rainfall, more flooding and mudslides to the Delta and the hill country behind it.

The government, with help from the international sector, is responding in many ways to these threats, such as shoring up sea dikes, disaster preparedness, planting more mangroves, research into salt resistant crops, and managing the water in rice paddies to minimize methane emissions.

Equipment yards along Highway 1A are full of construction equipment.

Equipment yards along Highway 1A are full of construction equipment.

Ready to dig!

Ready to dig!

Vietnam’s breakneck development – industry, condominiums, new houses, office towers – is fueled by the entrepreneurial spirit of its people, by huge amounts of investment (much of it from other countries such as China and Korea), and by greed. These forces have already eroded the country’s environment and agricultural base. They are now on a collision course with the need to reduce carbon emissions and the depletion of the aquifer. The Vietnamese government must now make some fundamental choices about the country’s future.

Pylons for a new rail line march toward Ho Chi Minh City along the west side of Highway 1A in Dong Nai.  The highway here is eight lanes.

Pylons for a new rail line march toward Ho Chi Minh City along the west side of Highway 1A in Dong Nai. The highway here is eight lanes.

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