Changing Livelihood Options as Adaptation: A Comparative Analysis of Three Flood Control Schemes in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta

  • Thong TranEmail author
  • Helen James


Most riverine societies in the Lower Mekong Basin have made substantial efforts in many ways to adapt to the accelerating complexities driven by climate change, hydropower development, and local flood management policies. However, little effort has been devoted to the change in rural livelihoods to adapt to social-ecological constraints in the wake of these ‘wicked problems’. This study attempts to investigate how farming households in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta have changed their livelihoods to accommodate the operation of flood control schemes. It employs the qualitative data gathered from focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with farming households and government officials across the administrative levels. The findings suggest dramatic fragmentation in flood governance at the local level. The comparative analysis of the pre-dyke versus post-dyke contexts suggests households’ flexibility in self-organising their livelihood activities. Alteration of cropping patterns, diversification of agricultural production, and migration were found as the primary livelihood strategies adopted by different household groups. The study reveals the polarity among household groups in their capacity to adapt to change. While the better-off and medium households are more likely to enjoy advantages from the schemes, their poor counterparts are plagued with constraints in accessing resources and capacity to switch to other alternative livelihoods. This study suggests important policy implications for the adjustment of flood management options to support better the adaptive livelihood practices in the delta.


  1. Bach Tan Sinh “The cultural politics of development and environment in Vietnam” in Kaosard, M. and Dore, J., eds., Social challenges for the Mekong region, Bangkok: White Lotus, 2003, 371–404.Google Scholar
  2. Bazeley, P. Qualitative data analysis with NVivo, London: Sage Publications, 2007.Google Scholar
  3. Benedikter, S. The Vietnamese hydrocracy and the Mekong Delta – Vietnam resources development from State socialism to bureaucratic capitalism, Berlin: LIT, 2014.Google Scholar
  4. Biggs, D., Miller, F., Chu Thai Hoanh, and Molle, F. “The delta machine: water management in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta in historical and contemporary perspective” in Molle, F., Foran, T., and Kakonen, M., eds., Contest waterscapes in the Mekong region, London: Earthscan, 2009, 203–225.Google Scholar
  5. Bosma, R. H., Udo, H. M., Verreth, J. A., Visser, L. E., and Cao Quoc Nam “Agriculture diversification in the Mekong Delta: Farmers’ motives and contributions to livelihoods”, Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development, 2005 (2): 49–66.Google Scholar
  6. Chu Thai Hoanh, Suhardiman, D., and Le Anh Tuan “Irrigation development in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta: Towards polycentric water governance?” International Journal of Water Governance, 2014, 2(2):61–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dang Nguyen Anh, Tacoli, C., and Hoang Xuan Thanh “Migration in Vietnam – A review of information on current trends and patterns, and their policy implications”, Proceedings of the Regional Conference on Migration, Development and Pro-poor Policy Choice in Asia, June 22–24, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2003, 42.Google Scholar
  8. Dang Thanh Duc, Cochrane, T. A., Arias, M. E., Van, P. D. T. and de Vries, T. T. “Hydrological alterations from water infrastructure development in the Mekong floodplains”, Hydrological Processes, 2016, 30(21): 3824–3838.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Vaus, D. A. Surveys in social research, New South Wales: Allen and Unwin, 2002.Google Scholar
  10. Dun, O. “Migration and displacement triggered by floods in the Mekong Delta”, International Migration, 2011, 49: e200–e223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fritzen, S. A. “Probing system limits: Decentralisation and local political accountability in Vietnam,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Public Administration, 2006, 28(1): 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Garschagen, M., Diez, J. R., Dang Kieu Nhan, and Kraas, F. “Socio-economic development in the Mekong Delta: Between the prospects for progress and the realms of reality” in Renaud, F. G. and Kuenzer, C., eds., The Mekong Delta system – Interdisciplinary analyses of a river delta, Dordrecht: Springer Environmental Science and Engineering, 2012, 83–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hansen, J. M. and Do Hong Phan “Integrated water resources management in Vietnam: Present status and future” in Biswas, A. K., Varis, O., and Tortajada, C., eds., Integrated water resources management in South and Southeast Asia, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 219–249.Google Scholar
  14. Huynh Truong Huy and Le Nguyen Doan Khoi “Analysis of labour migration flows in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam” in Stewart, M. A. and Coclanis, P. A., eds., Environmental change and agricultural sustainability in the Mekong Delta, New York: Springer, 2011, 115–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Imamura, F. and Dang Van To “Flood and typhoon disasters in Viet Nam in the half century since 1950,” Natural Hazards, 1997, 15(1): 71–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kellogg Brown and Root Pty Ltd. North Vam Nao Water Control Project II – Integrated water management plan, Final main report, Parkside, South Australia, 2005.Google Scholar
  17. King, N. and Horrocks, C. Interviews in qualitative research, California: Sage Publications, 2010.Google Scholar
  18. Le Anh Tuan, Chu Thai Hoanh, Miller, F., and Bach Tan Sinh “Floods and salinity management in the Mekong Delta” in Tran Thanh Be, Bach Tan Sinh, and Miller, F., eds., Challenges to sustainable development in the Mekong Delta: Regional and national policy issues and research need, Bangkok: SUMERNET, 2007, 15–68.Google Scholar
  19. Le Thi Viet Hoa, Shigeko, H., Nguyen Huu Nhan, and Tran Thanh Cong “Infrastructure effects on floods in the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam,” Hydrological Processes, 2008, 22(9), 1359–1372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Liamputtong, P. Qualitative research methods, Victoria: Oxford University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
  21. Miller, F. “Seeing ‘water blindness’ – Water control in agricultural intensification and environmental change in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam” in Connell, J. and Waddell, E., eds., Environment, development and change in rural Asia – Pacific between local and global, New York: Routledge, 2007, 186–207.Google Scholar
  22. Narayanasamy, N. Participatory rural appraisal: Principles, methods and application, California: Sage Publications, 2009.Google Scholar
  23. Neuman, L. Social research methods – Qualitative and quantitative approaches, Massachusetts: Pearson Education Inc, 2011.Google Scholar
  24. Nguyen Thi Phuong Loan. Legal framework of the water sector in Vietnam, University of Bonn: Centre for Development Research, 2010.Google Scholar
  25. Nguyen Van Sanh, Vo Tong Xuan, and Tran An Phong “History and future of farming systems in the Mekong Delta” in Vo Tong Xuan and Matsui, S., eds., Development of farming systems in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City: Ho Chi Minh City Publishing House, 1998, 16–80.Google Scholar
  26. Nguyen Xuan Vinh and Wyatt, A. B. Situation analysis: Plain of Reeds, Vietnam, Vientiane, Lao PDR: Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Programme, 2006.Google Scholar
  27. Pahl-Wostl, C., Nilsson, C., Gupta, J., and Tockner, K. (2011) ‘Societal learning needed to face the water challenge’, Ambio, 40(5): 549–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Party Committee of Thoi Hung Báo cáo kết quả thực hiện nhiệm vụ năm 2013 và chương trình công tác năm 2014 ngày 04 tháng 12 năm 2013, số 28/BC-DU [Report on mission implementation of 2013 and working agenda for 2014, dated December 04th, 2013, No. 28/BC-DU], Thoi Hung commune: Party Committee of Thoi Hung, 2013.Google Scholar
  29. Phu Xuan People’s Committee Báo cáo tình hình thực hiện nhiệm vụ phát triển kinh tế xã hội năm 2013 – Phương hướng nhiệm vụ năm 2014, số 120/BC-UBND [Report on implementation of socio-economic development in 2013 – Orientation and mission towards 2014, No. 120/BC-UNBD], Phu Xuan commune: Phu Xuan People’s Committee, 2013.Google Scholar
  30. Taylor, P. and Wright, G. “Establishing river basin organisations in Vietnam: Red River, Dong Nai River and Lower Mekong Delta,” Water Science and Technology, 2001, 43(9): 273–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tran Nhu Hoi “Typical large-scale floods and inundation compartments in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam” in Vietnam Academy for Water Resources, ed. Collection of engineering and technology achievements during the fifty-year construction and development 1959–2009, Hanoi: Agriculture Publishing House, 2009, 89–110.Google Scholar
  32. Tran Nhu Hoi Impacts of dyke systems on sustainable development of the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City: Southern Institute of Water Resources Research (SIWRR), 2005.Google Scholar
  33. Waibel, G. State management in transition: Understanding water resources management in Vietnam, ZEF Working Paper 55, Bonn: Centre for Development Research, University of Bonn, 2010.Google Scholar
  34. Waibel, G., Benedikter, S., Reis, N., Genschick, S., Nguyen Thi Phuong Loan, Pham Cong Huu, and Tran Thanh Be “Water governance under renovation? Concepts and practices of IWRM in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam” in Renaud, F. G. and Kuenzer, C., eds., The Mekong Delta system – Interdisciplinary analyses of a river delta, Dordrecht: Springer Environmental Science and Engineering, 2012, 167–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. World Bank Mekong Delta water resources project, IDA 31980, TF 26488, Project performance assessment report, The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 2011.Google Scholar
  36. World Bank, DANIDA, and MONRE Vietnam environment monitor 2003, Water, Hanoi, 2003.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Asia Research Institute, National University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia PacificAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

Personalised recommendations