The Mekong Delta
As sediment is dropped and blocks the water flow, the river is divided up into distributaries (separate water channels created by sediment blocking rivers at a delta). Deposition continues, the delta forms and it builds upwards and outwards.
The Mekong delta is formed of silt deposits dropped as the river enters the sea. These deposits continue to extend the shoreline by as much as 80 metres a year. The sediment that forms the Mekong delta is very good for farming and provides the soil that produces enough rice to supply 90% of Vietnam’s total with some left over for export - 6 million tonnes worth US$3 billion per year. Farming has led to the delta becoming one of the most densely populated regions of Vietnam and contributed to an annual economic growth of 11.7% for the first decade of the 21st century. 10 million hectares of land in Vietnam is used for agriculture, a ¼ of that in the Mekong delta. Due to its mostly flat terrain and few forested areas, 65% of the region's land can be used for agriculture.
The region’s industry accounts for 10% of Vietnam’s total gross output as of 2011. Furthermore, accumulated foreign direct investment in the Mekong delta as of 2011 was $10 billion. In fact, companies from Ho Chi Minh city have also invested heavily in the region; their investment from 2000 to June 2011 accounted for almost a further $10bn (199 trillion Vietnamese dollars). Key industrial projects in the gas industry with gas-powered fertilizer plants and thermal power stations have also contributed to the improved economy but an even bigger growth has been in tourism. Vietnam has joined forces with Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia to offer ‘unique, stress-free tourism’. The range of tourism on offer includes eco, community-based, sea and islands and cultural visits and the 12.8 million holidaymakers are contributing to an industry growing 6% each year.
Although currently very productive, there are fears for the future. China has so far planned eight dams in the upper reaches of the river. The effects of this downstream could include increased salt in the soil and a loss of fertility that could lead to a drop in rice production. There is also evidence that rainfall patterns are changing and there are more drought years which is leading to reduced flow in the river channel. Most importantly, as it is so low-lying the delta could easily flood if the sea level rises because of melting ice caps and higher ocean temperatures. There are fears that, if current predictions about flooding are correct, some areas of the delta will become uninhabitable over the coming decades.