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Canals in the Mekong Delta: A Historical Overview from 200 C.E. to the Present

Water History and Culture

  1. David Biggs

Published Online: 15 APR 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.wh18

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Biggs, D. 2005. Canals in the Mekong Delta: A Historical Overview from 200 C.E. to the Present. Water Encyclopedia. 4:748–752.

Author Information

  1. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2005


The Mekong Delta is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. It supports more than 20 million people living in a dense network of canals and creeks that today irrigate more than 2 million hectares of rice paddy. This landscape of dense settlement and intensive irrigated agriculture is relatively recent, although the earliest canal projects date to “Fu Nan” or Oc Eo culture circa 200 c.e. Today's water regime is not so much a single water system as it is a landscape built of multiple layers of canals in various stages of development and degradation. Some waterways continue to serve as primary transportation and irrigation works: others lie abandoned, their traces sometimes only visible through analysis of aerial photography or historical reports. This overview describes these historical layers of canalization and the context for some of the major projects in each period.


  • Mekong Delta;
  • Vietnam;
  • canals;
  • dredging;
  • dredges;
  • hydraulic engineering;
  • hydrology;
  • rice agriculture;
  • floods;
  • flooding;
  • flood plains;
  • acid sulfate;
  • acidification;
  • Fu Nan;
  • history;
  • archeology;
  • colonialism