Locals team up against sand thieves in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta
Residents on Doi Islet, located in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre, approach a boat of sand thieves.
The illegal exploitation of sand along the Tien (Front) River has been the main cause of subsidence and house collapse in Con Doi (Doi Islet) in Tan Phu Commune, Chau Thanh District, but locals have finally had enough.
Residents of the area have begun patrolling it to protect their home, despite threats from sand thieves.
Thanks to their bravery, and the aid of patrol units from the Tan Phu People’s Committee, the situation has gradually started to improve.
The effort first started when Nguyen Van Lai and his neighbor decided to confront a group of sand thieves last year, following several failed attempts to stop them with words.
Lai and his friend rowed a raft toward the exploitation site and managed to board the looters' vessel before being forced overboard by water hoses.
“Luckily we both knew how to swim, otherwise it could have been fatal,” Lai stated.
After the confrontation, Lai and other residents on the islet agreed that stern measures must be used to deal with the outlaws.
The residents quickly established a team of ‘sand protectors’ and installed Lai as the leader.
Ho Thi Be, a 67-year-old local, recounted an incident of a few months ago when she used a slingshot to shoot down lights on a sand thef boat, scaring the group away.
Despite being the eldest member of the team, Be does not hesitate when it is time to hop on a boat to battle the thieves.
“The thieves are very stubborn and aggressive. I can’t just stand and watch my teammates risk their safety to fight,” Be said.
When local boat owners were threatened by the bandits for lending their rafts to the patrollers, the team members put their earnings together to buy their own boat for VND16 million (US$707).
“Each time they carry out the illegal exploitation, a piece of land on the islet is at a high risk of subsidence. We will fight till the end to stop the crime,” Lai asserted.
Sitting in a new house about 50 meters from the riverbank, Dao Thi Hong Thu, 53, pointed to a section of the Tien River, stating that it was previously a plot passed down to her by her father.
The excessive sand exploitation in recent years has caused the land to subside, Thu said, adding that she had to build a new house further ashore to prevent it from collapsing into the water.
Nguyen Van Phong, another resident, stated he, his wife, and their children had to leave their house after part of it fell into the river.
According to Lai, most people living along the riverbank in Con Doi have lost their land to subsidence in the past five years.
“I have also lost several thousands of square meters of land to the water,” Lai added.
“That is why our patrol team has been supported by residents on the islet,” he explained.
According to Be, the possible revenge from the sand thieves is no longer a fear.
“It is us who they should be afraid of,” she stressed.
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