Mekong Delta ravaged by drought and salinity

By Bui Hong Nhung, Cuu Long   February 28, 2016 | 07:08 pm PT
The Mekong Delta, contributing 55 percent of Vietnam’s rice output, is experiencing its worst drought and salinity in over a century, says Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat.

Thousands hectares of rice withered in the Mekong Delta

Turbulent weather, caused by El Nino, has buffeted the Mekong Delta since the end of 2014, taking a heavy toll on rice production.

More than 100,000 hectares of rice fields have been devastated by the prolonged drought and salinity, according to a report from the ministry. Should such conditions continue, as much as 340,000 hectares, accounting for 30 percent of the winter-spring crop, will be ruined.

Last year, the rainy season came late and finished early in Vietnam’s southern region. Total rainfall dived 20 to 50 percent from previous years, causing the water level of the Mekong River to sink to a 90-year low.

The increase in salinity is at levels not normally seen for another two months. Saltwater has encroached 40 to 90 kilometers upstream into major rivers in the delta, up 10 to 15 kilometers from last year.

Vinh Long province, which is more than 100 kilometers from the nearest coast, has for the first time, suffered salinity problems. Other southern provinces, including Ben Tre and Tra Vinh, are likely to face water shortages for more than two months in 2016.

“The damage is inevitable,” said the minister, “so we need urgent measures to cope with these problems.”

The World Bank, in an overview of Vietnam until 2035, forecasts that climate change could hit the Mekong delta and surrounding areas hard. It could possibly reduce annual rice production in the country by three to nine million tonnes by 2025.

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