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Comments on the Draft of the ‘Mekong Delta Plan’
Ed. Board. According to the Agreement between the Vietnamese & Netherland Governments, Dutch experts have finished the Draft of the ‘Mekong Delta Plan’. A Focus Group Meeting was held in Hanoi on September 12nd & 13st, 2013, to disscuss on the Draft. At the Meeting, Dr. To Van Truong delivered his comments as following:

Comments on the Draft of the ‘Mekong Delta Plan’

 

Dr. To Van Truong

 

Ed. Board.
  According to the Agreement between the Vietnamese & Netherland Governments,  Dutch experts have finished the Draft of the ‘Mekong Delta Plan’. A Focus Group Meeting was held in Hanoi on September 12nd & 13st, 2013, to disscuss on the Draft. At the Meeting, Dr. To Van Truong delivered his comments as following:

 

Chapter 1 & 2

-   The principle approach has been used many times and proven to be quite effective: first to develop a vision and then to identify the steps that actually allow this vision to become reality. 

-   As explained in my comments the methodology used here is unclear as not all steps have been explained (in particular who did what)?. The final elements that describe the four possible futures entail a list of investment strategies that could inform the Vietnamese planning process. However, I believe the scientific assessment of causal relationships is missing or rather vague. 

 

Chapter 4 & 5       

-   Accuracy of the scenario? I'm not worried about the accuracy because this depends on what stakeholders believe is plausible. However, these scenarios are not very holistic but rather sketchy. Also, I can't see any evidence for an assessment of how internally consistent the scenarios are (based on best scientific evidence).     

-    Desirability of the agro-business scenario as such, and compared to the other scenario presented. The authors are clearly biased towards this scenario and I agree with many statements. Even in our vision work many aspects of this scenario have been mentioned as desirable. However, an economic assessment is completely lacking, while such a perspective is really critical if it should be useful for Vietnam's planning process. Some of the suggested investments are likely to involve 'large money'.

-    Feasibility of the agro-business scenario as such and compared to other scenarios presented

I'm not sure if it is feasible. First, one would need to conduct an economic assessment to estimate costs and benefits. 

-   Assessment of the agro-business scenario againts current policy objectives (i.e triple crop rice) and where relevant of political willingness to adjust and/on improve existing strategies.

I believe that this scenario would require substantial farm consolidation or, alternatively, a restructuring of the agricultural industry in Vietnam. This would need policy objective to change, allow for an 'industrialisation' of the agricultural sector. Also, current food security policy limits flexibility of land owners by introducing rice limits. The agro-business scenario would require a lot of flexibility to be able to make necessary adjustments depending on world market dynamics. This would also mean that the processing industry would need to be really integrated. Policy-wise, some aspects around rice production goals and national food security would need to be adjusted. 

 

Chapter 6      

            Some very good ideas and very well delivered. I think what I’m missing is an economic assessment of these interventions. Some of them sit in the hundreds of millions of dollars and I’m not sure if all measures would stand a cost benefit analysis, in particular when considering that most measures also create losers (I.e. coastal aquaculture/shrimp when building dikes, or loss of arable land/compensation of land owners when building large canals). I believe this Chapter would benefit a lot from adding an economic assessment of all proposed measure.

·         Also one comment on no-regret strategies. I know this term is frequently used. However, any investment causes opportunity costs and thereby ‘regrets’ by someone (i.e. a particular sector). Using the term no-regrets as it is used implies that all can be funded at no costs. This is a dangerous and misleading assumption of the advice provided by this plan. To add to the principle problem of ‘no regret’ arguments, the particular measures suggested on flood control have another problem: they ignore upstream developments. If Lao PDR realises all dams proposed and irrigation areas are extended as currently debated in Thailand, Lao PDR and Cambodia, the flood risk is very likely to reduce substantially. Investing a large amount of funding into flood control might prevent what is likely to be less of an issue in the near future. Economically, this might end up being a high regret strategy.

·         Having said this, the controlled flood retention measures might still be economically beneficial, considering the household level improvements and diversification of livelihoods. That’s why adding an economic assessment would really strengthen this document.

·         Another point concerns the sediment suspension dynamics. Such large-scale investments in such a retention system is likely to trap larger amounts of sediment that the current system. Wouldn’t this exacerbate the erosion problem of the coastal area, which is currently driven by the reservoirs built upstream? Would this mean that the Upper Delta would be erosion-wise safe-guarded at the cost of the coastal zone? Sounds politically difficult.

As mentioned, I strongly recommend an economic assessment of all four scenarios. Additionally, I find a few topics are not sufficiently considered in the draft plan:

·         Upstream development of hydropower, 

·         The expected and already experienced loss of sedimentation,

·         Cross-sectoral consequences: the agro-business approach will require much more energy, how is this provided?

Specific Comments

-          Figure 2.3: I’m not sure if this diagram is helpful because it utilises the scenario concepts that follow much later in the paper. As it is it’s rather confusing (i.e. food security itself isn’t necessarily reducing adaptive capacity…); so maybe a reference to Figure 4.2 would help? Not sure…

-          Table 2.1: If I understand this table correctly it assumes no changes upstream, attributing the changes outlined only to climate change? It would be good to make this explicit. Regarding the numbers it would be good to see some references to see where these numbers come from. Our recent calculations do not confirm these predictions but see much lower effects for flow and sealevel rise.

-          Page 13; 2.3, d: what about decreasing sediment delivery and erosion?

-          Page 28: I struggle with most of this text as most of this is an analysis and rather normative discussion of current developments. Under this heading I’m expecting a set of drivers the scenario development considered and what data was used to specify what trends for these drivers. Additionally, I’m missing an explanation how this input translated into the scenarios described; there is quite a gap that makes it hard for the reader to understand the methodology.

 

-   4.3.1: I struggle with this scenario, but this is maybe due to me not understanding how these scenarios were developed. The point I struggle with is the agricultural focus is described in a rather negative way. If farms consolidate and move into resilient how value crops while other areas concentrate on manufacturing industries and services that provide sufficient employment for the out-migrating youth…that doesn’t sound like a negative outcome. If at the same time upstream development maintains a more constant flow and sediment (and nutrient) delivery problems can be managed (or negotiated)…well, form a national perspective Vietnam might have done the best with the fertile land in the delta. Let’s not forget that the Government of Vietnam is not after an ‘optimisation of the Delta economy’ in isolation from the national perspective. Reducing agriculture can introduce other vulnerabilities. But again, I might simply not understand how the scenarios were developed.

 

-   4.3.4: The dual node scenario is described in a very positive way while there are factors that are real risks for such a future, for instance the ‘sinking’ of the delta (and Can Tho) given the likely lack of sediment delivery in the future. But again, this might be my misunderstanding  of the scenario process… Did the team check the internal consistency of scenarios? Or are these simply descriptions of alternative futures?

 

-   4.4: All these points listed here are absolutely critical, I agree (although I’m wondering why this plan requires some of the normative statements made here). However, I’m wondering how these points relate to the visions. Were they considered when translating drivers and trends into scenarios? Are they now added to understand the different changes that need to happen to achieve the scenarios?

 

-   5.1; Page 40: Fantastic! Great page!!!

 

-   Page 41: Sea level rise (SLR)  of 1-2 meters? Again, we as scientists should not catalyse wrong expectations. Most scientific evidence points at SLR far below 1m by 2100. I don’t think such statements help this document. I don’t think many donors would invest much into infrastructure if we have to expect a SLR of 2 m and the private sector would seriously move out of Can Tho. Already now tidal dynamics cause flooding in several parts of Can Tho. Add 70cm to this and Can Tho won’t attract much investment. Add 1-2m and they will move elsewhere. Some of these flooding related impacts on industry can already be observed in HCMC.

 

-   5.1: Good section but how relates this to the scenarios???

 

-   5.2: How was the assessment conducted? Did the team employ qualitative techniques or did they model some of the outcomes quantitatively? I also wonder because the actual description of the scenarios is rather thin and can be interpreted in slightly different ways. Was there a richer description of scenarios stakeholders developed?

 

-   Page 45: I agree with a lot of these statements. However, there is a lot of normative statements being made without providing any evidence of an scientific assessment conducted. Is this available somewhere else? Or is this just the opinion of stakeholders involved in the process and represents a non-scientific assessment? Examples: this scenario requires massive investments and partly changes in how the agricultural sector is structured. Where does this investment come from? How is the restructuring organised? Also, food processing is one of the most water-intense industries. Already now Can Tho has massive water quality problems and large areas struggle with acidic soils. Managing this requires also large investments. These are just two example for large challenges this transformation entails, which don’t mentioning.

 

-   Page 47: second bullet point, should that read extreme climate change events? or is it extreme climate change scenarios? etc 

 

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