Drought pushes village to the edge

By    March 31, 2016 | 01:37 pm GMT+7

Water shortages have forced hundreds of people to abandon their homes and move to a nearby dried up river bed where they are trying to eke out a living. 

The Sat River is the largest water source for irrigation in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan. Months of below-average rainfall have caused the water level in the river to fall by three quarters. Depleted water reserves have also made farming more difficult, forcing people in Ma Nai village to move as close to the river as possible so that they can make use of what little water there is to grow short-term crops that are relatively tolerant to dry conditions.

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Falling water levels in the Sat River has exposed parched land. Photo by Tu Huynh

One farmer counts herself lucky that she still has one hectare of corn from which she can earn a meager income of VND6 million ($270) per crop.

“Otherwise my whole family would go hungry. The drought has left the land back in my village completely barren,” said Nhem, who left her home to live near the river so that she and the three generations of her family can make ends meet.

Nhem is not alone. Similar situations are facing hundreds of people in the region, which has experienced extremely low rainfall for the past two years.

Around the river are hundreds of temporary households where people have set up fences to mark off plots to grow crops such as green beans and corn.

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Makeshift huts on the dry river bed. Photo by Tu Huynh

The local government is scrambling for measures to ease the water crisis, and for the moment is turning a blind eye to the migration.

“They are allowed to grow crops for a short time. When the rainy season comes and the drought ends, they will have to return to their village,” said Mau Thai Phuong, a senior local official.

There is also a massive shortage of clean drinking water, with local reservoirs down to an average of around 26 percent of their capacity, said the provincial People's Committee.

Vietnam is experiencing its worst drought in almost a century and farmers have resorted to alternative measures to grow crops amid the water shortage. For instance, farmers in the southern Mekong Delta, which provides much of the country's rice, have to find water by drilling groundwater wells.

Due to the El Nino weather pattern, the Mekong Delta has been hardest hit by the crippling drought and saltwater intrusion. More than 140,000 hectares of rice fields have been razed and about 150,000 families are lacking clean water at present, according to calculations by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The drought has also decreased the water level in the Red River near Hanoi in the north.

 
 
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