C32 Megadeltas in Asia

C3.2.1 Megadeltas in Asia (Chapter 10, Section 10.6.1, Table 10.10)

There are eleven megadeltas with an area greater than 10,000 km2 (Table C3.1) in the coastal zone of Asia that are continuously being formed by rivers originating from the Tibetan Plateau (Milliman and Meade, 1983; Penland and Kulp, 2005) These megadeltas are vital to Asia because they are home to millions of people, especially in the seven megacities that are located in these deltas (Nicholls, 1995; Woodroffe et al., 2006). The megadeltas, particularly the Zhujiang delta, Changjiang delta and Huanghe delta, are also economically important, accounting for a substantial proportion of China's total GDP (Niou, 2002; She, 2004). Ecologically, the Asian megadeltas are critical diverse ecosystems of unique assemblages of plants and animals located in different climatic regions (IUCN, 2003b; ACIA, 2005; Macintosh, 2005; Sanlaville and Prieur, 2005). However, the megadeltas of Asia are vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise that could increase the frequency and level of inundation of megadeltas due to storm surges and floods from river drainage (Nicholls, 2004; Woodroffe et al., 2006) putting communities, biodiversity and infrastructure at risk of being damaged. This impact could be more pronounced in megacities located in megadeltas, where natural ground subsidence is enhanced by human activities, such as in Bangkok in the Chao Phraya delta, Shanghai in the Changjiang delta, Tianjin in the old Huanghe delta (Nguyen et al., 2000; Li et al., 2004a, 2005; Jiang, 2005; Woodroffe et al., 2006). Climate change together with human activities could also enhance erosion that has, for example, caused the Lena delta to retreat at a rate of 3.6 to 4.5 m/yr (Leont'yev, 2004) and has affected the progradation and retreat of megadeltas fed by rivers originating from the Tibetan Plateau (Li et al., 2004b; Thanh et al., 2004; Shi et al., 2005; Woodroffe et al., 2006). The adverse impacts of salt-water intrusion on water supply in the Changjiang delta and Zhujiang delta, mangrove forests, agriculture production and freshwater fish catch, resulting in a loss of US$125x106 per annum in the Indus delta, could also be aggravated by climate change (IUCN, 2003a, b; Shen et al., 2003; Huang and Zhang, 2004).

Externally, the sediment supplies to many megadeltas have been reduced by the construction of dams, and there are plans for many more dams in the 21st century (see C3.1.1; Woodroffe et al., 2006). The reduction of sediment supplies makes these systems much more vulnerable to climate change and sea-level rise. When considering all the non-climate pressures, there is very high confidence that the group of populated Asian megadeltas is highly threatened by climate change and responding to this threat will present important challenges (see also C3.1.1). The sustainability of megadeltas in Asia in a warmer climate will rest heavily on policies and programmes that promote integrated and co-ordinated development of the megadeltas and upstream areas, balanced use and development of megadeltas for conservation and production goals, and comprehensive protection against erosion from river-flow anomalies and sea-water actions that combines structural with human and institutional capability-building measures (Du and

Zhang, 2000; Inam et al., 2003; Li et al., 2004b; Thanh et al., 2004; Saito, 2005; Woodroffe et al., 2006; Wolanski, 2007).

C3.2.2 Climate change and the fisheries of the lower Mekong: an example of multiple stresses on a megadelta fisheries system due to human activity (Chapter 5, Box 5.3)

Fisheries are central to the lives of the people, particularly the rural poor, who live in the lower Mekong countries. Two-thirds of the basin's 60 million people are in some way active in fisheries, which represent about 10% of the GDP of Cambodia and Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR). There are approximately 1,000 species of fish commonly found in the river, with many more marine vagrants, making it one of the most prolific and diverse faunas in the world (MRC, 2003). Recent estimates of the annual catch from capture fisheries alone exceed 2.5 Mtonnes (Hortle and Bush, 2003), with the delta contributing over 30% of this.

Direct effects of climate will occur due to changing patterns of precipitation, snow melt and rising sea level, which will affect hydrology and water quality. Indirect effects will result from changing vegetation patterns that may alter the food chain and increase soil erosion. It is likely that human impacts on the fisheries (caused by population growth, flood mitigation, increased water abstractions, changes in land use and over-fishing) will be greater than the effects of climate, but the pressures are strongly interrelated.

An analysis of the impact of climate-change scenarios on the flow of the Mekong (Hoanh et al., 2004) estimated increased maximum monthly flows of 35 to 41% in the basin and 16 to 19% in the delta (lower value is for years 2010 to 2138 and higher value for years 2070 to 2099, compared with 1961 to 1990 levels). Minimum monthly flows were estimated to decrease by 17 to 24% in the basin and 26 to 29% in the delta. Increased flooding would positively affect fisheries yields, but a reduction in dry season habitat may reduce recruitment of some species. However, planned water-management interventions, primarily dams, are expected to have the opposite effects on hydrology, namely marginally decreasing wet-season flows and considerably increasing dry-season flows (World Bank, 2004).

Models indicate that even a modest sea level rise of 20 cm would cause contour lines of water levels in the Mekong delta to shift 25 km towards the sea during the flood season and salt water to move further upstream (although confined within canals) during the dry season (Wassmann et al., 2004). Inland movement of salt water would significantly alter the species composition of fisheries, but may not be detrimental for overall fisheries yields.

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