Historic drought costs Vietnam $670 million

By An Hong   June 1, 2016 | 04:02 pm GMT+7

The worst drought and saltwater intrusion in almost a century has cost Vietnam VND15 trillion ($669 million) so far this year in agriculture losses, according to a government report.

The southern Mekong Delta, Vietnam’s largest rice-growing region, has been hardest hit by the worst drought since French colonial administrators began recording statistics in 1926.

The Department for Agricultural Economy under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, which conducted the assessment of the drought, said the country's south central region, Central Highlands and southern Mekong Delta have been hit hard.

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Lam Thi Loi, a farmer, holds a bundle of dead rice that was killed by a combination of drought and salt water in Soc Trang Province. Photo courtesy of The New York Times

The historic natural disaster has taken a heavy toll on agricultural production. Thousands of hectares of fruit, rice and sugar crops have been destroyed.

It is estimated that nearly 250,000 hectares of paddy fields have dried up, and Vietnam's rice output is likely to fall this year for the first time since 2005.

The Mekong Delta's winter-spring output fell 10.2 percent from last year, but total production could fall by just 1.5 percent to 44.5 million tons this year, Reuters cited a government official as saying, explaining that the decline will be limited as farmers expand their plantations for the current and final crops.

"Overall the annual paddy output will only be short by 700,000 tons," said Tran Cong Dinh, deputy head of the Agriculture Ministry's Crops Department.

Seafood off the menu 

Vietnam exports $7 billion of seafood a year, mostly from waters off its southern coast, and the industry has started to feel the impact. Thousands of hectares of farmed aquatic products have been seriously affected.

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A boy searches for small insects in a parched field in Soc Trang Province. Photo courtesy of The New York Times

The southernmost province of Ca Mau, which accounts for 25 percent of the country’s shrimp production, has lost VND260 billion after the drought and saltwater intrusion killed 52,000 hectares of farmed shrimp.

Local authorities in Ca Mau are concerned that the affected area will double to 100,000 hectares if the harsh weather continues.

Adverse weather conditions, including the prolonged drought and saltwater intrusion in the southern Mekong Delta, and the mass fish deaths in central provinces, have been blamed for the country’s economic slowdown in the first quarter.

Statistics show Vietnam’s gross domestic growth in the first quarter reached only 5.6 percent, lower than the 6.7 percent recorded in the same period last year.

The World Bank last month revised down Vietnam’s GDP growth rate to 6.2 percent from its previous estimate of 6.5 percent after taking into account the impacts of the historic natural disaster.