Changes in Ecosystem Services and related Livelihoods in the Mekong Delta: vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:30 AM
Zita Sebesvari and Fabrice G. Renaud, United Nations University, Institute for Enviroment and Human Security, Bonn, Germany
The Mekong Delta (Vietnam) is highly vulnerable to the many impacts of global environmental change as well as to the accelerating anthropogenic changes in the catchment and in the delta itself. Today the delta is an agricultural landscape controlled by engineering structures such as channels, dykes, embankments, and sluice gates. These structures have been constructed gradually over the last 200 years mainly for irrigation and flood control in the upper part of the delta and to control saline intrusion in the coastal areas. Recent changes in the hydrology mainly driven by upstream hydropower development on the mainstream and the tributaries of the Mekong will likely have far reaching impacts on the delta´s social-ecological systems through changes in e.g. sedimentation processes, nutrient transport as well as the health of aquatic ecosystems. Further threats to the delta include sea level rise and an increase in seasonal rainfall variability leading to an increase in flood variability. These changes affect the lives of millions of low-income inhabitants who depend on the ecosystem services provided by the Mekong for their livelihoods and sustenance. Since the changes in ecosystem service provision are occurring relatively fast while the resource dependency of the delta population is very high, adaptation becomes a challenge. An assessment of livelihood dependencies on ecosystem services requires an understanding of ecosystem services affected by different drivers of change, as well as of the types of livelihoods likely to be jeopardized as a result of these changes. We will present main ecosystem services supporting specific livelihoods, discuss how they are threatened, and analyse the merits of potential solutions. Options based solely on grey infrastructure might be problematic on the long term while an integration of ecosystem based solution such as a (re)adaptation of agricultural production systems to floods in the upper delta might be a more sustainable option. As the importance of policy interventions was demonstrated for the region, we argue that adaptation to climate change needs to be facilitated by policies embedded in a more flexible and adaptive agricultural development plan for the delta also considering no regret ecosystem based solutions with additional benefits for livelihoods.