Vietnam drinks dregs of China's water support in Southeast Asia

By Vuong Duc Anh   March 17, 2016 | 03:15 am PT
China's decision to open one of its reservoirs into the Mekong River to combat the drought which Southeast Asia is experiencing has sparked controversy between local authorities and agriculture experts in Vietnam.

Farmers in Ca Mau Peninsula has been struggling to save crops as canals are in severe lack of fresh water.

Most people and local authorities around the Mekong Delta have welcomed the news that China has agreed to release water into the river to help Vietnam and other countries survive the prolonged drought and increased salinity, but domestic irrigation experts do not share the same view, saying that only a small of the water will reach Vietnam.

Luong Ngoc Lan, head of the Agriculture and Rural Development Department in Bac Lieu, said that China’s decision to release water will greatly benefit this sourthern province and others as well. He expects water to reach Bac Lieu four days after China opens the reservoir gates on March 15.

According to Lan, Bac Lieu has been suffering from drought and saline intrusion for several months. While the salinity has not reached farmland yet, agricultural production may be severely affected if the lack of fresh water continues.

Huynh Ngoc Van, deputy head of the Agriculture Department in Soc Trang province, where drought has damaged 47,000 hectares of spring-summer crops, said that the irrigation system will be ready to receive water from upstream.

Van said that if there is fresh water in the next few days, the ​​damage will be reduced significantly.

After hearing of China’s decision to release water, farmer Pham Minh Hung from Soc Trang province said:

“People here feel like we've struck gold. If fresh water flows down the river, we will be able to save our 300 hectares of sugarcane.”

However, irrigation experts in Vietnam predict that only three to four percent of the water released into the Mekong by China will reach the Delta – the country's main agricultural area.

To Van Truong, former director of the Southern Institute for Water Resource Planning, said that China is not a member of the Mekong River Commission, so countries downstream do not have legal grounds to ask China to release water. Even if China does so, sewage and irrigation systems in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia will take most of the water as these countries are also suffering from the drought.

“The amount of water released by China to Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia will be deducted by natural allocation. Only three to four percent of it will reach the Mekong Delta.”

Dr. Tran Anh Tuan , deputy director of the Institute for Research and Climate Change also said that Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are experiencing severe drought , especially Thailand. When the water flows down from China through these countries, they will take advantage of it and Vietnam will be left with very little, Tuan said.

“The water we are likely to receive will only be enough for daily life, not to save agricultural land,” Tuan predicted.

Vietnamese Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said that Vietnam’s ministries, along with irrigation experts, will work together with China to determine the amount of water that Vietnam needs to combat the drought.

Reports from the ministry show that the ongoing drought and salinity in the Mekong Delta has decimated thousands of hectares of crops and severely affected local communities.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced earlier that Vietnam will allocate VND 15 trillion ($670 million) to combat what is considered a “historical disaster”.

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