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Speeches & Transcripts September 27, 2017

Welcoming Remarks by Ousmane Dione, World Bank Vietnam Country Director at The Mekong Delta Conference 2017

Honorable Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc,

Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue,

Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung,

Honorable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Provincial Party Secretaries and Chairmen,

Excellencies ambassadors of Australia, Germany, the Netherlands,

Provincial participants, research agencies and development partners,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

All protocols observed,

Good morning, xin chào!


I am honored to be here today to speak to you on the importance of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam’s development as the region stands ready to look at transformative solutions.

Let me first express our sincere thanks to his excellency Prime Minister Phuc and his Government for your leadership to promote integrated adaptive delta management, and for bringing together all sectors and provinces to plan, prioritize, and implement resilient investments. I would like to also recognize the strong leadership of Minister Ha of MONRE, Minister Cuong of MARD, Minister Ha of MOC, and Minister Dung of MPI for guiding the relevant government agencies to support the needs of the region.

Over the last two years, development partners together with the government counterparts have used the Mekong Delta Forum as an effective platform for stakeholders to discuss and debate climate-resilient solutions for a sustainable pathway for the Mekong Delta’s growth. This year, we are very pleased to see the leadership of the government to bring together critical thematic discussions on the future of the Mekong Delta.

As a lifeline of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta has played a critical role on the country socio-economic successes. The delta’s region and its 18 million people hold the promise of fantastic opportunities to carry further successes of Vietnam development agenda and to spearhead the transformation of the region overall economy into a more productive, more innovative and resilient to climate change.  However, the delta is increasingly being exposed to climate variability events. Just two years ago, livelihood in the Mekong Delta region were devastated by the effects of drought and saline intrusion. This year, severe coastal flooding and river bank erosion have impacted the lives of vulnerable communities across the Delta.

These events need a coordinated response –across sectors, and across provinces.

The Mekong Delta’s development needs a fundamental shift in paradigm --- from a farm and provincial perspective to an inter-provincial, delta-wide and transboundary one; from a short-term sectoral perspective to a long-term, multisectoral and climate-resilient one.  Regional economic development, climate change adaptation and regional infrastructure development require the “Government as a whole” approach. This means close cooperation between the Mekong delta provinces, central government and the private sector for an efficient and sustainable use of available financial and natural resources.

This conference represents an important platform to further consolidate the foundation for the long-term and sustainable Mekong agenda. In reality, it should be a turning point because Vietnam’s growth trajectory in the Mekong Delta will -- in my opinion –necessitate an adherence to the following four principles:

·         First, Factor in Vulnerabilities and Uncertainties. In the low-lying Mekong Delta, climate change and its impacts (too much water, too little water, too dirty water and its consequences) will further exacerbate issues relating to water and land-use. Factoring in uncertainties –from upstream and downstream impacts as well as those from climate change impacts is no longer only a necessity. It is an imperative. Specific vulnerabilities across sectors, and provincial boundaries – need to be modelled under different scenarios to inform long-term planning, adaptation pathways, and investment choices.

·         Second, Build on Efficiencies and effectiveness: With Vietnam’s strong commitment to better manage fiscal constraints, increasing efficiency and effectiveness of financial resources will become even more critical. Current fragmentation of budget and investments and the lack of effective enabling environment are limiting the potential of the Delta’s collective growth. This calls for bold actions that rationalize scarce resources, enact policies to align production patterns with natural conditions, strategically locate infrastructure and optimize investment choices. In the Mekong Delta, taking a regional perspective to investments and policies will help to improve productive, distributive and allocative inefficiencies. The proposed Mekong Delta Water Security Project under the auspices of the Ministry of Construction to bring several provinces together for a sustainable water supply against water salinity and shortage and the proposed Southern Waterways Logistics project under the Ministry of Transport point to the right direction and set the path for more effective solidarity in finding a joint solution to common challenges. Each of these projects are being prepared with a broader, integrated and delta-wide perspective.

·         Third, Value Provincial Interlinkages: To fully unleash the development potential of the Mekong delta, optimizing provincial interlinkages is clearly needed particularly on shared land management, water resource use and connective infrastructure. If not well coordinated, decisions and investment choices taken at the provincial level may have unintended negative impacts on the development potential of other provinces. Finding win-win opportunities and working to synergize investments could have spill over benefits beyond a province boundary. One model to follow are the recent efforts initiated in the Dong Thap Muoi area with the provinces of Dong Thap, Long An and Tien Giang on joint planning and undertaking of strategic infrastructure. 

·         Finally, Capitalize on Comparative Advantages. With different hydro-ecological sub-regions and varying natural capital endowments, the delta’s sub-regions also face specific challenges, emerging from their spatial, historical and vulnerability contexts. The upper delta’s move towards rice intensification has come at the loss of benefits from a shrinking floodplain, while coastal areas are facing growing salinity intrusion and severe erosion. Livelihood transitions and infrastructure requirements in the upper delta will need to focus on flood-based agriculture and flood retention. On the other hand, those in the coastal areas need to expand to brackish livelihoods to adapt to the growing salinity. By capturing economies of scale, sub-regions can become more competitive –integrating into global value chains –thereby increasing incomes and sustainable livelihood opportunities for the local populations. The ongoing Mekong Delta Climate Resilience project is working to support such an approach.

The KEY ELEMENTS FOR THE TRANSFORMATIONS needed for a CLIMATE RESILIENT AND SUSTAINABLE MEKONG DELTA will require attention to 4 “Eyes” --- Institutions, Information, Investments and Implementation. Allow me to elaborate on each of those:

·         First, INSTITUTIONS Matter: The importance of regional coordination – across the 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta could not be emphasized enough, to capture synergies, ensure complementarities, and garner economies of scale. I congratulate the government in taking the first steps towards piloting regional coordination – with the Prime Minister decision 593. Such regional coordination is necessary to move away from the silos and unilateral planning towards a more coordinated, spatial and integrated approach. This will improve efficiencies, correct overlapping mandates of agencies and departments, and clarify roles and responsibilities. Strengthening institutions and related mechanisms for vertical (province- region- national) and horizontal (across sectors) integration, are critical to promote a productive economy with greater innovation and in ensuring agglomeration efficiencies and productivity gains. I encourage the government within its reform agenda to consider transforming an existing entity into an effective authority, fully mandated, empowered and funded to lead the development of the Mekong Delta Region. Let me highlight some good practice examples of delta-wide institutional mechanisms from other countries such as the Dutch Delta Commissioner’s office– with authority, mandate and budget for planning and investments in the Netherlands; the Tennessee Valley Authority in the United States that transformed one of the lagging regions into a model of integrated development and in my own country of Senegal the “ Senegal River Basin Organization” OMVS a supranational entity empowered for joint planning, joint investment , joint execution and joint management of all water related developments among four riparian countries of the Senegal River Basin based on the principles of solidarity and equity.

·         Second, INFORMATION SYSTEMS is a pre-requisite: As one of the most studied delta systems in the world, the Mekong Delta must have a compiled and reliable database with effective sharing protocols and harmonization. Such information needs to be integrated into the planning processes, with a focus on spatial, integrated and interprovincial development.  I would like to highlight that an evidence based approach should be adopted in the design, location and scope of prioritized investments to effectively inform government decisions and to adjust planning from a regional context to the local one. The upcoming Planning Law provides an opportunity to address the shortcoming and overlapping of master plans at various levels and for different sectors.  The World Bank stands ready to support the development of an integrated Master Plan ---which will aim for coordinated investments and interconnected infrastructure, synergized land-use and sectoral policies, and harmonized strategies for production, value chains and private sector involvement.

·         Third, INVESTMENTS and Financing. Given the large investment needs, the development of the Mekong Delta requires a strict adherence to identifying, programming and prioritizing investments that are efficient and effective; that take into account uncertainties and trade-offs; and that are embedded in science and strong analytics.  This has a cost and requires resources mobilization. Where the money will come from is therefore an essential question? Drawing from examples in other countries, Vietnam might want to consider a Mekong Delta Development Fund with a clear governance framework to provide critical and dedicated financing that are aligned to the overall principles of sustainable and adaptive delta management. While the terms and modalities need to be adapted to Vietnam context, the fund could potentially comprise four windows of available financing:

-           An infrastructure window- dedicated to interprovincial projects with effective interconnectivity and spill over benefits. This window could include an incentive budget from the national level as a top-up;

-           A private sector window– to incentivize private sector engagement particularly in processing of agricultural products, for incubating and commercializing startups, and for leveraging resources for no-regret investments through public private partnerships

-           An innovation and research window – to transition livelihoods, transform water saving and environment-friendly practices, and promote coastal zone management through innovative technologies and sound research. Using the Vietnam Climate Innovation Center (VCIC), this window could catalyze innovative solutions for the development of the Mekong Delta Region;

-           A poverty alleviation and vulnerable communities window–this would target specific vulnerable and impoverished communities –exploring mechanisms for social protection, insurance schemes etc.

We strongly believe that the government must lead on the Mekong Delta financing and resource mobilization --- with innovative financing mechanisms to pool in public, private, development partners and provincial resources.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, IMPLEMENTATION. The indicator of success in transforming the Mekong Delta development model will come not only from its design, but more specifically from actions on the ground with concrete results. Preparation is key, but even more critical, is taking a pragmatic approach to “not let perfection become the enemy of good”. Instead, as a well-known saying “just do it”. Although the transformation needed for the Delta will be a journey, one thing is clear, the longer we wait to bring about transformation, the higher the costs of inaction will be. 

Honorable Prime Minister,


Ladies and gentlemen,

The Mekong Delta in Vietnam is at a critical point. Decisions and choices on infrastructure, and livelihood investments made now could have irreversible long term impacts. This conference is very timely. All of us gathered here today, represent the people who must work together to find innovative solutions for securing the future of the Mekong Delta Region.  We need to work to consolidate the foundations between science and decision-making to adapt and adopt innovative concepts to secure a global good and a common patrimony.  The transformation of the Mekong Delta is of vital interest not only for Vietnam but for entire Mekong Basin. I praise and encourage the Vietnam government under the leadership of the Prime Minister to further champion the Mekong agenda, within and beyond its borders, through a blue diplomacy which embraces the aspiration of peace, prosperity and stability for the sub- region. 

I thank you Honorable Prime Minister for your leadership and commitment to moving the Mekong Delta’s development onto a strategic and climate resilient pathway with concrete outcomes.

I wish you good health, success and happiness.

Xin Cam on qui vi.