World Delta Dialogues II recently concluded in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The first World Delta Dialogues was held in New Orleans two and a half years ago. Both were organized by the America’s WETLAND Foundation.
What began as a call for networking among the planet’s mega-deltas in 2010 has led us in 2013 to the first “CommuniquÃ© of Cooperation” for sustaining the world’s most productive ecosystems.
This gathering in Ho Chi Minh City met a half a world and a dozen time zones away. There was a tremendous sense of urgency, knowing rising seas and stronger storms threaten these deltaic centers of commerce and culture. The list of organizers alone spoke to the importance of the event: the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Vietnam National University-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Vietnam Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The World Bank, World Wildlife Fund, Oxfam International, Ducks Unlimited and a host of other international agencies and non-governmental organizations.
Some questioned why Vietnam? The answer is that along with the Mississippi Delta, where we experience the greatest land loss on the planet, the Mekong Delta faces the highest rate of expected change due to subsidence and sea level rise caused, among other things, by climate variations. As we exited this conference, Vietnam officials envisioned the Netherlands, with its ages-old water management strategies, and the United States, with emerging expertise due to the loss of wetlands and coastal areas in Louisiana, as obvious partners to address the heightened vulnerabilities facing the world’s coastlines. It was even suggested that these three nations serve as a focal point in the war against coastal degradation – three distinct regions from three continents addressing one world challenge of enormous complexity requiring immediate attention.
Losing the Mississippi Delta has consequences that are unimaginable to this nation’s economy and the 31 states dependent upon the Mississippi watershed. And the stakes are just as high in the Mekong, the Ganges, the Nile, the Rhine, the Amazon and many others.
There is little doubt that cooperation and shared expertise is required to tackle this monumental issue. It requires worldwide focus for the sake of economies, environments and the people they support, especially as more than half of the world’s populations are settling in greater numbers along the globe’s coasts.
The continued loss of our delta in Louisiana and ever encroaching seas serve alongside salt-water intrusion into the rice crops of Vietnam as dark omens for the future. As Americans, we have for too long pitted the environment against the economy, man vs. nature, while failing to properly manage our natural resources for future generations. There should be no more debate in such a context.
It is clear that a strong environment is essential to a strong economy and that waiting to sustain our natural resources will have serious consequences for man and animal alike. That was the message emanating from these World Delta Dialogues. And this message is applicable to deltas across the world. Cooperation on such global issues should be one of our national priorities before it is too late, lest we deprive our children of the world’s natural wonders.
R. King Milling is chairman of America’s WETLAND Foundation.