Parched Sa Pa tells farmers to suspend paddy cultivation

By Tat Dinh   April 27, 2019 | 11:00 am GMT+7
Parched Sa Pa tells farmers to suspend paddy cultivation
A woman stands on a paddy field in Sa Pa. Photo by VnExpress

To cope with a crippling water scarcity, the Sa Pa administration has instructed paddy farmers to stop irrigating their fields.

Authorities in the resort town in the northern mountain province of Lao Cai have spoken with the 25 local farming families.

One of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, the town has been suffering from a severe water shortage this month due to abnormally low rainfall.

The available water can only serve a third of the 61,000 people in Sa Pa, Pham Hong Quang, CEO of the Lao Cai Water Supply Joint Stock Company, said.

Sa Pa’s sole waterworks normally supplies 6,000 cubic meters a day with water drawn from five sources, but four of them are now dry.

From the last remaining source, Suoi Ho 2, a stream and lake which yield 4,000 cubic meters a day, the town was able to use only half the water since rice farmers have been using the other half.

"A water shortage this time of the year is a common story, but the situation is much more serious this year and it is likely to last longer than usual," Quang said.

Sa Pa has not received decent rains so far this year while tourists have come flocking, leading to higher demand for water, he added.

Le Tan Phong, the town chairman, said authorities have negotiated to take the entire supply from Suoi Ho 2 for household use.

"The 25 farming families will stop growing paddy and will be compensated later."

But officials have not clarified for how long the farmers need to stop work and how much compensation they will be paid.

With water being saved from the rice fields, there will be enough to meet the demand of local people and businesses during the coming holidays, Phong said.

Vietnam has a five-day holiday starting Saturday for Reunification Day, April 30, and Labor Day, May 1.

Since early this month locals have had to buy water for daily use at the cost of VND300,000-500,000 ($13-22) per cubic meter.

Hospitality businesses have been hit hardest.

Pham Quoc Tuan, owner of a hotel in Sa Pa, said he has to spend VND1.5 million ($65) every day to buy water and has refused many bookings for the holidays because of the water shortage.

"The cost of buying water has been rising but we have no choice because we have to maintain the prestige of our hotel. If the situation continues, we really don’t know what we will do."

Dinh Van Hung of another hotel near the town center told VnExpress International on Wednesday that his hotel has been buying water brought from outside the province for the last few days.

"We had to refund two room bookings the other day due to the water shortage. We have faced this problem in previous years too, but this time it’s more severe."

Canned water is about to be transferred to local houses and hotels in Sa Pa. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Anh

Canned water is about to be transferred to local houses and hotels in Sa Pa. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Anh

Who's to blame?

Asking farmers to stop watering their fields is a temporary solution, Dao Trong Tu, director of the Center for Sustainable Development of Water Resources and Climate Change Adaptation based in Hanoi, said.

It is Sa Pa’s tourism development plan that has caused the serious water shortage, he claimed.

"Hotels have kept coming up in Sa Pa without any plans. A waterworks with a capacity of just 6,000 cubic meters a day cannot allow Sa Pa to serve millions of visitors a year."

His center is also studying the effects of hydropower plants built in the area on Sa Pa’s water supply, he said.

"We cannot conclude anything yet, but we assume hydropower plants and the disappearance of upstream forests might affect the town's water sources."

But Phong, the town chairman, disagreed with this, saying no power plant has been built on Sa Pa’s five major water sources.

Lao Cai authorities are looking for investors to build another waterworks with a capacity of 15,000 cubic meters a day, he said, adding work is expected to start this year and finish next year.

Crowds of tourists in Sa Pa during the Reunification Day holiday in April 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Vy An

Crowds of tourists in Sa Pa during the Reunification Day holiday in April 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Vy An

Sa Pa has 700 lodging facilities with almost 7,000 rooms, including hotels in its center and rental apartments on the outskirts.

In the first three months this year it received 800,000 visitors, including 100,000 foreigners. Last year 2.5 million tourists came.

In 2017 Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had called for "careful development" of Sa Pa to preserve its nature and culture.

Development must not "mess it up" and all it would take for Sa Pa to become an international tourism destination was preserving its "green forest and ethnic culture," he had said.

Lao Cai officials had earlier revealed plans for construction in the town by 2020, including a new administrative center, a high-end service complex, a park and an urban center to prepare to welcome four million visitors by then.

The town, perched at 1,600 meters, or nearly one mile above sea level, is already under great threat from commercial tourism development. Large portions of the town look like a construction site, and a cable car system now runs to the top of Mount Fansipan.

In its 2019 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum had listed water scarcity as one of the largest global risks over the next decade.

 
 
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