Encroaching Sea and Coastal Erosion: Autonomous Adaptation to Climate Change in a Mekong Delta Community

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Nguyen Quang Dung
Le Thi Ngoc Phuc
Tran Thi Thao
Nguyen Hoang My Lan

Abstract

Coastal erosion, induced by climate change, has severely affected local socio-economic and bio-geophysical systems along the 600-km coastline of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, with many communities reporting large-scale damage. Authorities have built defense structures here and there in the hardest-hit areas, triggered by post-disaster emergencies. These measures, usually slow to be enacted, have proved ineffective. Therefore, locals have turned to autonomous adaptation by mobilizing available resources despite great difficulty and uncertainty. This study, based on anthropological research in a coastal community of Ben Tre province, investigates the ways in which locals take their own initiative to counter erosion. It looks closely at values or factors that have enabled or constrained people’s autonomous adaptation, offering implications about what authorities as well as residents can do to address the uncertainty in aspects of the current coastal management mechanism. Field research involved formal and informal interviews, participatory observation, and group discussion with 40 households that adapt by building sandbag revetments and switching crops. Ethnographic data show that the autonomous adaptation–a process that reflects both vulnerability and agency of the community–is driven by place attachment and a collective sense of economic insecurity if relocated while constrained by water scarcity, saline intrusion, and loss of agricultural land. There remain unresolved questions concerning the tenability of their seawall system and new crops’ productivity. Contextualized understandings of climate change impacts on the community imply that, in hard-hit areas where autonomous adaptation engenders other socio-economic risks and uncertainties, planned adaptation should be prioritized and the timely implementation of top-down policy is necessary as the poor do not have enough socio-economic resources to continue autonomous adaptation.

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How to Cite
Nguyen Quang Dung, Le Thi Ngoc Phuc, Tran Thi Thao, & Nguyen Hoang My Lan. (2022). Encroaching Sea and Coastal Erosion: Autonomous Adaptation to Climate Change in a Mekong Delta Community. Journal of Mekong Societies, 18(1), 1–27. Retrieved from https://so03.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/mekongjournal/article/view/260454
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