Financial Times –
Some environmental disasters present themselves over years; others come with a bang — or a splash.
The latter happened one day in August, when residents of Binh My, a commune in Vietnam’s lush Mekong Delta, heard a loud cracking sound. They went outside to watch a 30-metre-long chunk of the highway that runs alongside their houses collapse into the river as the asphalt gave way.
One of Asia’s biggest wetlands is subsiding into the sea, the result in part of rising sea levels created by climate change. But when asked what caused the collapse, a local farmer who gave his name as Bo points to a crane mounted on a boat mid-river — about a kilometre away — that is mining sand.
“They are making the bed of the river deeper and deeper,” he says, miming a scooping action.
Researchers monitoring the Mekong say a crisis that has been building on the river for years has turned into a full-blown emergency in recent months. They blame two man-made phenomena: the mining of sand from the riverbed and the building of new dams upriver in Laos and China that are altering the river’s flow, sediment content and even its colour.