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Vietnam Fights Rising Sea Levels, Protects Economic Growth

Rising sea levels threaten the environment and livelihood of the Ca Mau province community

Rising sea levels threaten the environment and livelihood of the Ca Mau province community

Farmers try to adjust to the effects of climate change

Vietnam is one of the world's fastest growing economies. But the country is also experiencing the effects of climate change. Scientists say parts of the country would be inundated within 40 years because of rising sea levels. The community in Ca Mau province grapples with the threat to its environment and livelihood.

Vietnam's economy grew by 8.5 percent in 2007 and is expected to expand by 6.5 percent this year, despite the global slowdown.

The country's young population, a key factor in its economic rise, is visible in Ca Mau, the southernmost province.

This coastal region sits mostly less than a meter above the sea, and many people depend on shrimp breeding and rice growing. And they are learning just how bad the damage from coastal erosion and rising ocean waters can be.

They used to live where those poles are some years ago, says this resident.

"Every year it erodes little by little," Vhan Thn Thanh said. He is deputy director of Ca Mau's Natural Resources and Environment Department. "And the erosion here happened four years ago. Until now, the erosion is about 40 or 50 meters," he added.

"The problem along the coasts was coastal erosion and loss of coastal land, shorelines. That to some degree can be attributed to sea level rise," Dr. Anond Snidvongs said.

Snidvongs is director of Southeast Asia regional center of START, a research network focusing on global and regional environmental changes, has studied climate change for more than 10 years.

"First it was the atmosphere that gets warmer. Then there are two things: it changes the pattern of wind and evaporation, precipitation, cloud pattern, so it affects rainfall and others," Snidvongs said. "...and then some of the heat also got absorbed into the ocean."

Scientists say sea levels around the world have risen 12 to 15 centimeters over the last century.

Ca Mau's government is drafting plans based on estimates that by 2040, 81 percent of the province will be flooded as sea water rises by almost 25 centimeters in this part of the world.

"There are issues also that are equally important, but received less attention, (like) salt water intrusion," Snidvongs stated.

Scientists have found that as sea levels rise, salt water taints farm land.

Farmers used to harvest rice twice a year, but now because of the high saltiness of the water on his field, he gets only one crop a year. "Before, we plant rice without salt water. Now we plant with more technology. Before, it's easier," the farmer said.

He now plants a salt-resistant rice variety and has learned to breed shrimp on his land.

The government is looking at ways to help, such as building dikes to hold back the sea. But for this region almost surrounded by the sea, dikes are not the most practical option.

Vietnam has shown it is serious about addressing the effects of climate change. The question, however, is how the government will balance economic growth and efforts to cope with rising sea levels.