Drought grips Mekong Delta

By Bui Hong Nhung, Cuu Long   March 15, 2016 | 08:35 pm GMT+7

Vietnam, the third largest rice exporter in the world, is facing the worst drought and salinity to hit the Mekong Delta in years.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world

A short rainy season and 90-year lows in the Mekong River have led to saltwater intrusion in 11 provinces in the southern delta. The two remaining provinces, Dong Thap and Can Tho, have so far escaped the salinity, but are combating serious drought. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development projects that up to 500,000 hectares of rice fields will go uncultivated for the summer-fall crop due to natural disasters. This has also disrupted daily life for five million people.

“We are going through historical catastrophes,” said the Minister Cao Duc Phat.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-1

Pham Thi Tiet, 80, from Tan Phu Dong district in Tien Giang province, said: “My family has lost 6,000 square meters of rice. This is the harshest drought and salinity that we have ever seen.”

Over 1,000 hectares of rice have already died in Tien Giang province, and to rescue the remaining 22,000 hectares, the province has set up 674 new water pumps to supply water for irrigation.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-2

Many farmers in the southern province of Kien Giang have started harvesting their crops, but rice productivity this year is low. Danh Ca, 42, from An Bien district, said: “Saltwater has penetrated so far into the fields that we are unable to react. Seeing rice paddies ready to be harvested wither day by day really hurts.”

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-3

Kien Giang has recorded damage to 55,000 hectares of rice. In an attempt to protect other areas, the local government has set up 89 dams to prevent saltwater intrusion. Each day, 20,000 cubic meters of underground water is pumped out here to supply local people.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-4

Soc Trang, another southern province, is suffering from the same problems. In the picture is Thach Thanh, 42, a citizen from one of Soc Trang’s worst-affected districts. He said: “I feel powerless against the intense drought. In the last couple of weeks, many folks have left for other provinces to make a living. Only when rain falls will they come back.”

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-5

A ditch in Soc Trang has been parched for months due to the fierce drought. The last drops of water were pumped out to save the paddy fields.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-6

Many interior canals off the Mekong Delta have run dry. Local people are doing their utmost to dredge the last drops for their fields.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-7

People from southern provinces are suffering severe water shortages. They are forced to buy water for anything up to VND 70,000 per cubic meter to meet basic demands.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-8

The prolonged drought has caused many vegetable crops to the brink. Nguyen Thanh Lam, deputy head of the agriculture division in Ba Tri district, Ben Tre province, said: “Local people have lost their rice crops, and now their vegetables are dying.”

“Poor farmers cannot generate an income from their crops, while tenant farmers are unemployed. How will they survive?” he added.

worst-drought-and-salinity-to-threaten-rice-supply-of-the-world-9

Incomplete irrigation systems in the Mekong Delta are struggling to cope with historic disasters. The entire delta needs VND32.5 trillion ($1.4 billion) to cope with climate change, of which VND1,06 trillion should be allocated to prevent saltwater infiltration and preserve scarce water resources.