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MEKONG DELTA

The History

The Mekong Delta was likely inhabited long since prehistory; the empires of Funan and Chenla maintained a presence in the Mekong Delta for centuries. Archaeological discoveries at Óc Eo and other Funanese sites show that the area was an important part of the Funan kingdom, bustling with trading ports and canals as early as in the first century AD and extensive human settlement in the region may have gone back as far as the 4th century BC. Angkor Borei is a site in the Mekong Delta that existed between 400 BC-500 AD. This site had extensive maritime trade networks throughout Southeast Asia and with India, and is believed to have possibly been the ancient capital to the Kingdom of Funan.

Khmer Empire

The region was known as Khmer Krom (lower Khmer, or lower Cambodia) to the Khmer Empire, which likely maintained settlements there centuries before its rise in the 11th and 12th centuries.The kingdom of Champa, though mainly based along the coast of modern Central Vietnam, is known to have expanded west into the Mekong Delta, seizing control of Prey Nokor (the precursor to modern-day Ho Chi Minh City) by the end of the 13th century. Author Nghia M. Vo suggests that a Cham presence may indeed have existed in the area prior to Khmer occupation.

Kingdom of Cambodia

Beginning in the 1620s, Cambodian king Chey Chettha II (1618–1628) allowed the Vietnamese to settle in the area, and to set up a custom house at Prey Nokor, which they colloquially referred to as Sài Gòn. The increasing waves of Vietnamese settlers which followed overwhelmed the kingdom—weakened as it was due to war with Thailand—and slowly Vietnamized the area. During the late 17th century, Mạc Cửu, a Chinese anti-Quing general, began to expand Vietnamese and Chinese settlements deeper into Cambodian lands, and in 1691, Prey Nokor was occupied by the Vietnamese.

Vietnam

In 1698, the Nguyễn lords of Huế sent Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, a Vietnamese noble, to the area to establish Vietnamese administrative structures in the area. This act formally detached the Mekong Delta from Cambodia, placing the region firmly under Vietnamese administrative control. The Khmers were cut off from access to the South China Sea, and trade through the area was possible only with Vietnamese permission. During the Tây Sơn wars and the subsequent Nguyễn Dynasty, Vietnam's boundaries were pushed as far as the Cape Cà Mau. In 1802 Nguyễn Ánh crowned himself emperor Gia Long and unified all the territories comprising modern Vietnam, including the Mekong Delta.

Upon the conclusion of the Cochinchina Campaign in the 1860s, the area became Cochinchina, France's first colony in Vietnam, and later, part of French Indochina. Beginning during the French colonial period, the French patrolled and fought on the waterways of the Mekong Delta region with their Divisions navales d'assaut, a tactic which lasted throughout the First Indochina War, and was later employed by the US Navy Mobile Rivenrine Force. During the Vietnam War, also referred to as the Second Indochina War—the Delta region saw savage fighting between Viet Cong (NLF) guerrillas and units of the United States Navy's swift boats and hovercfafts (PACVs).

Following independence from France, the Mekong Delta was part of the Republic of Vietnam and eventually the country of Vietnam. In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime attacked Vietnam in an attempt to reconquer the Delta region. This campaign precipitated the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and subsequent downfall of the Khmer Rouge.

Geography

The Mekong Delta, as a region, lies immediately to the west of Ho Chi Minh City (also called Saigon by locals), roughly forming a triangle stretching from Mỹ Tho in the east to Châu Đốc and Hà Tiên in the northwest, down to Cà Mau at the southernmost tip of Vietnam, and including the island of Phú Quốc.

The Mekong Delta region of Vietnam displays a variety of physical landscapes, but is dominated by flat flood plains in the south, with a few hills in the north and west. This diversity of terrain was largely the product of tectonic uplift and folding brought about by the collision of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates about 50 million years ago. The soil of the lower Delta consists mainly of sediment from the Mekong and its tributaries, deposited over thousands of years as the river changed its course due to the flatness of the low-lying terrain.

The present Mekong Delta system has two major distributary channels, both discharging directly into the East Sea. The Holocene history of the Mekong Delta shows delta progradation of about 200 km during the last 6 kyr. During the Middle Holocene the Mekong River was discharging waters into both the East Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. The water entering the Gulf of Thailand was flowing via a palaeochannel located within the western part of the delta; north of the Camau Peninsula. Upper Pleistocene prodeltaic and delta front sediments interpreted as the deposits of the palaeo-Mekong River where reported from central basin of the Gulf of Thailand.

The Mekong Delta is the region with the smallest forest area in Vietnam. 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) or 7.7% of the total area are forested as of 2011. The only provinces with large forests are Ca Mau Province and Kien Giang Province, together accounting for two thirds of the region's forest area, while forests cover less than 5% of the area of all of the other eight provinces and cities.

Climate change concerns

Being a low-lying coastal region, the Mekong Delta is particularly susceptible to floods resulting from rises in sea level due to climate change. The Climate Change Research Institute at Can Tho University, in studying the possible consequences of climate change, has predicted that, besides suffering from drought brought on by seasonal decrease in rainfall, many provinces in the Mekong Delta will be flooded by the year 2030. The most serious cases are predicted to be the provinces of Ben Tre and Long An, of which 51% and 49%, respectively, are expected to be flooded if sea levels rise by one meter. Another problem caused by climate change is the increasing soil salinity near the coasts. Bến Tre Province is planning to reforest coastal regions to counter this trend. The duration of inundation at an important road in the city of Can Tho is expected to continue to rise from the current total of 72 inundated days per year to 270 days by 2030 and 365 days by 2050. This is attributed to the combined influence of sea-level rise and land subsidence. Several projects and initiatives on local, regional and state levels work to counter this trend and safe the Mekong Delta. One programme for integrated coastal management, for instance, is supported by Germany and Australia.

Demographics

The inhabitants of the Mekong Delta region are predominantly ethnic Viet. The region, formerly part of the Khmer Empire, is also home to the largest population of Khmers outside of the modern borders of Cambodia. The Khmer minority population live primarily in the Tra Vinh, Soc Trang and Muslim Cham in Tan Chau, An Giang provinces. There are also sizeable Hoa (ethnic Chinese) populations in the Kien Giang, and Tra Vinh provinces. The region had a population of 17.33 million people in 2011.

The population of the Mekong Delta has been growing relatively slowly in recent years, mainly due to out-migration. The region's population only increased by 471,600 people between 2005 and 2011, while 166,400 people migrated out in 2011 alone. Together with the central coast regions, it has one of the slowest growing populations in country. Population growth rates have been between 0.3% and 0.5% between 2008 and 2011, while they have been over 2% in the neighbouring southeastern region. Net migration has been negative in all of these years. The region also has a relatively low fertility rate, at 1.8 children per woman in 2010 and 2011, down from 2.0 in 2005.

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