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1.1m People Have Left the Mekong Delta in the Past Decade, Report Says

The impacts of climate change, hydroelectric plants, and a faltering economy have resulted in an exodus of people from the Mekong Delta.

On Monday, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management released the first Mekong Delta Economic Report on the dire situation. It claims that between 2009 and 2019, immigration rates to the region were 4.9%, the lowest in the nation, while outward migration was the highest, at 44.8%.

In the last decade, Vietnam's total population grew at an annual average of 1.1%, while the delta's population only increased from 17.2 million to 17.3 million (0.58%). In the last two years, the delta's population has declined by 0.3%. If the trend of people leaving en masse and few arriving continues, experts predict its population will fall below 17 million by 2030. Meanwhile, the Mekong Delta constituted 27% of the nation's GDP in 1990, a figure that has fallen to a mere 18% today.

Droughts, landslides and pollution are cited as the major reasons for the decline in population, but economic inefficiencies and poor infrastructure are contributing factors. Underdeveloped road networks have resulted in poor inter-province connectivity, and a failure to urbanize has limited the region's ability to attract foreign investment. Simply put: "The economic opportunities here are limited or unattractive, forcing people to migrate to other regions," said Dr. Vũ Thành Tự Anh, director of the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management program.

The report contains advice on how the region should develop during the next ten years. Stressing the need for sustainability and long-term growth as opposed to short-sighted reactions to volatile markets, it advises moving from labor-intensive farming operations to more efficient and environmentally responsible farming systems and revising the order of farming emphasis from rice-seafood-fruit to seafood-fruit-rice.

The Mekong Delta remains an important agricultural engine for the nation, and in 2019 it produced 54% of the country’s rice, 70% of the aquaculture products, and 60% of the fruit.