Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Rising Tides

January 10, 2011

Story By Monica Lomahukluh

Photos By Kevin Radley and Bryan Zimmerman

The bus rattled as we drove down the unmaintained road to Vinh Chau district.  I looked out the window while the sight of gaudy houses diminished as we got closer to the coast.  This broader land has more of a pleasant valley feel.  Oh, how much this reminded me of home.  Ranchland, I called it, poor farmers struggling with the arid land, and the threat of sea level rise (SLR).

Off into the horizon, a mound of dirt began to appear.  Construction went through my mind until Dr. Be, a local professor from Can Tho University, exclaimed “there’s the dyke”.   Is this what the Vietnamese call protection against the elements of nature? A mound of dirt called a dyke?  I thought it would be made out of concrete at least.  The bus came to a halt and my classmates and I eagerly stumbled off the bus after the hour ride down the beaten path.  I climbed the four-foot tall dyke to be shown a whole new side of Vietnam.

Feeling on top of the world, I was face-to-face with the west sea, while 10 feet behind me the houses of the local people.  The tide was low and a whole new ecosystem came to life.  Mud-skippers, a plump fish that slithers in the water and hops on land, were playing and fighting with one another.  Roots of the mangroves were uncovered from their water world.  The local professor, Dr. Be explained to the class the importance of the mangroves.

He told us they provide the farmers protection against the constant waves of the ocean and help maintain the dyke’s structure.  One of my classmates asked a question about the maintenance of the dyke.  According to Dr. Be, they have to rebuild the dyke every two years and occasionally make it higher to completely protect the farmers from SLR.  There are plans being implemented for the construction of a 700 km long land dyke stretching the entire coast of the Mekong Delta.

Thoughts rambled through my brain about being disconnected with one of earth’s greatest contribution to humanity—the elements.  I had heard about this before, Dr. Be had stated previously to the fieldtrip that the plan to fight the rising sea is to build the lengthy dyke. I did not understand the thought process behind this plan.  In my mind, natural elements are more powerful than human manipulation.

I tried to comprehend the knowledge being tossed in front of me as happy, yet impoverished children meandered through our group.  Wanting for the first time to be acknowledged of their presence, we took memorable photos of each smiling face.  The children were so fascinated with our picture-taking contraption that they had to see every single shot that was snapped.  Their simple lifestyle is what I strive for, but, if I’m successful, I am choosing to live that way; it’s not my only option.   The Vietnamese farmers are poor, yet humble people that are rich in good heartedness but trapped along a rising sea. A country that has barely contributed to climate change should not have to suffer the consequences.

The management plans for adaptation, in my opinion, should not be suppressed by dirt or concrete dykes.  No amount of human manipulation on the land can fight against earth’s wrath.  Many people are skeptical of sea level rise, but to those skeptics I’d recommend they visit Southern Vietnam and see with their own eyes the impacts of climate change.  What will happen if the dyke doesn’t work? What will happen if a big tsunami hits?  What will happen when the smiling faces disappear? I want to speak for the people but I have no answers to these questions.  Someone out in the world that has a heart as big as Vietnam, speak up and put yourself out there help save a threatened country.

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