Those who survive blame God for adding disasters to their miserable fate, but the problem has been partially caused by human beings.
Unbridled exploitation of sand in the two major rivers of the Mekong Delta -- the Tien and Hau rivers -- is counted as one of the factors leading to the calamity as it has created changes to the tidal flow, which had been stable for centuries.
Mechanical leveling of alluvial ground along the banks of rivers has also forced changes to the water flow, causing further erosion.
Disasters on islands
The family of Nguyen Thanh Liem, 84, which lives on Chau Ma Island in Hong Ngu District of Dong Thap Province is one example of victims of land erosion.
He lost his son, his house and all of his land. The disaster has caused his family to break up as each member has had to leave their homeland to work as hired laborers in different provinces.
The entire island of Chau Ma is three kilometers long and initially began to erode in the 1990s. It has now become an immense surface of water in the Tien River. His two-hectare piece of land fell to the bottom of the river overnight last year.
“Every night, the island shrunk by 15-20 meters on each side, sweeping away five or six houses close to the bank,” said Liem.
His son, Nguyen Van Khon, who was deputy chairman of the People’s Council of Hong Ngu District, was killed 20 years ago by the soil erosion.
“On the night of his death he was working late in his office when the water nymph came to take him away. His office building collapsed into the water. The guest house and State Treasury buildings of Hong Ngu fell on a night in 1992,” Liem recalled.
“When he was alive, he pursued his dream of going to school to gain knowledge and build construction sites to modify the tidal flow to prevent erosion. But he was finally killed by the problem he wanted to solve.
“After leaving the office, his wife took her three children to buy a house deep in the center of the island, but erosion has gradually approached. They have no place to move,” Liem added.
Formerly, Chau Ma Island and its 5,000 inhabitants belonged to Phu Trung Commune, but it has almost been eliminated and the commune was merged into Phu Thuan B of Hong Ngu District.
Nguyen Thanh Liem, 84 holds the portrait of his son, Nguyen Van Khon who was killed in 1992 by soil erosion (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
In similar cases to that of Chau Ma, other islands such as Tao, Beo, and Thuong Thoi Tien in the Mekong Delta have encountered increasing soil erosion, with Tao and Beo having totally disappeared. Sections of river banks have also faced threats of soil erosion.
Apart from damage caused by human being as sand exploiters, Ph.D Ha Quang Hai -- chief of the Environment Department of the Ho Chi Minh City National University -- noted that soil erosion is a natural and inevitable process during the steady and non-stop history of forming the earth’s crust.
“The Mekong Delta sits on a weak structure of land and thus it is easily affected by the complicated winding tidal flow of Tien and Hau rivers. It is a certain process in flood plains,” said Hai.
However, the scientist said he has paid attention to the recent abnormal rate of soil erosion in the Mekong Delta.
Every year, hundreds of hectares of land once used for cultivation in the region have disappeared, causing severe damage to houses, public infrastructure and crops in Can Tho, An Giang, Dong Thap, and Tien Giang.
Ph.D Nguyen Huu Chiem, chief of the Environment Department of Can Tho University, said local authorities should carry out comprehensive plans to survey, measure and map out the bottoms of rivers, as well as their tidal flows in different seasons.
This will provide a base to produce precise forecasts in the future, he said.