How climate change is triggering a migrant crisis in Vietnam

The Vietnamese Mekong Delta is one of Earth’s most agriculturally productive regions and is of global importance for its exports of rice, shrimp and fruit. The 18 million inhabitants of this low-lying river delta are also some of the world’s most vulnerable to climate change. Over the last 10 years around 1.7 million people have migrated out of its vast expanse of fields, rivers and canals, while only 700,000 have arrived.

The high net rate of migration away from Mekong Delta provinces is more than double the national average, and even higher in its most climate-vulnerable areas. This implies that there is something else – probably climate-related – going on here.

In 2015-2016 disaster struck with the worst drought in a century. This caused saltwater to intrude over 80km inland, and destroyed at least 620sq miles of crops. In Kien Giang (population 1.7 million), one of the worst affected provinces, the local net migration rate jumped, and in the year that followed around one resident in every 100 left.

Climate change is the dominant factor in the decisions of 14.5 per cent of migrants leaving the Mekong Delta. If this figure is correct, climate change is forcing 24,000 people to leave the region every year. And it’s worth pointing out the largest factor in individual decisions to leave the Delta was found to be the desire to escape poverty. As climate change has a growing and complex relationship with poverty, 14.5 per cent may even be an underestimate.

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