VietNamNet Bridge – Drought and saltwater intrusion began affecting the Mekong Delta last December, two months earlier than previous years. This is the worst in the last 100 years, harming hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops.
The delta, the country's largest rice, fruit and fisheries producer, is facing the worst drought and saltwater intrusion in 90 years, though it is not yet the peak of the dry season, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said more than 200,000 tons of rice have been damaged, resulting in a loss of over $44.64 million to the region.
The MARD reported that saltwater intrusion appeared two months earlier than previous years due to serious river water shortages.
The salinity in the Vam Co, Tien and Hau Rivers and other rivers near the West Sea is now higher than traditional levels.
Meanwhile, saltwater has intruded upstream 50 – 60km into the mainland, and even 93km in the Vam Co River’s neighborhood, about 15 – 20km deeper than previous years.
This is the worst saltwater intrusion so far in the Delta, the rice hub of Vietnam, the ministry said.
In the winter-spring crop 2015-2016, more than 339,000 hectares of rice in coastal Mekong Delta provinces are prone to saltwater intrusion and drought, accounting for 35.5 percent of those localities’ rice areas and 21.9 percent of the region’s total rice area. Of these, 104,000ha have been severely impacted.
The National Centre for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting said saltwater intrusion had reached alarming rates in Ca Mau, Kien Giang, Ben Tre and Tra Vinh provinces.
Saltwater has entered 40-95km inland to the delta's major rivers, 10-15km further than usual.
In the Hau River, a tributary of the Mekong, saltwater has reached Can Tho City and Vinh Long Province, places that are usually not affected.
Hau Giang Province normally sees saltwater enter only from the West sea, but this year it has also entered from the East Sea.
Kien Giang, where more than 34,000ha of rice were lost – the highest in the delta - has dredged canals, built temporary dams and closed sluice gates to keep out saltwater.
Rach Gia city in Kien Giang has suffered a shortage of freshwater for household use for two months, which has never happened before, he said.
The delta's eight coastal provinces – Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Tra Vinh, Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Kien Giang, and Hau Giang – had planted more than 950,000ha of winter-spring rice, accounting for 62 per cent of the delta's crop.
Director of the National Centre for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting Hoang Van Cuong said the water flow from upper rivers to the Mekong Delta this dry season (from November to April) will be low, leading to very acute drought and saltwater intrusion.
Meanwhile, Tang Duc Thang, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Academy for Water Resources, said the intrusion will last until May or even July if the region lacks rain.
The MARD said it urged ministries, sectors and localities to consider saltwater intrusion prevention as an extremely serious mission, and to drastically devise both short and long-term solutions.
The ministry also suggested relevant ministries and localities support residents in areas where agricultural cultivation was suspended; and build temporary dams and culverts, and dig ponds and wells while dredging canals to store water and prevent saltwater intrusion.
The delta's provinces have taken measures to mitigate the damages, including restructuring crop cultivation schedules, building temporary dams and dredging canals to store fresh water, and installing public pumps.
Agriculture minister Cao Duc Phat said: "We have had measures to deal (with the drought and saltwater intrusion) but damage still occurs and will be more severe. Therefore, it is urgent to co-ordinate measures to deal with natural disasters and ensure water for daily use."
Long-term solutions are vital because the two disasters will occur frequently and be more severe in the future, he said.
The most difficult problem now is to find funds to build irrigation works that are considered sustainable solutions against drought and saltwater intrusion, he said.
Construction of a sluice gate in the Cai Lon – Cai Be River in Kien Giang Province, for example, will cost $200 million while 29 smaller sluice gates in Kien Giang's An Bien and An Minh districts will cost $50 million.
The delta needs a few billion dollars for implementing sustainable solutions, he said.
"We should mobilise capital from all sources like the World Bank and official development assistance."
Deputy PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc said: "The Government will allocate VND2.3 trillion (US$104 million) from bonds and official development assistance loans for the delta to combat drought and saltwater intrusion."
He ordered the Ministry of Finance and the delta provinces to provide relief worth VND2 million ($95) per hectare to affected households.
The provinces should quickly complete urgent works like building dams and pumping stations, sinking bore wells and dredging canals to ensure there is enough water, he added.
The MARD will provide financial support for localities in the Mekong Delta regions which have been affected by acute drought and salt intrusion.
Accordingly, each hectare of rice suffering 70% loss or greater will be subsidized with VND2 million (US$90), while VND1 million (US$45) will be given to each hectare with 30-70% damage.
The MARD’s agencies will enhance water resource and salt intrusion forecasting, while supporting localities with suitable technical solutions in building temporary dams to take and store fresh water.
In addition, the ministry will push forward the completion of a technical package to cultivate breeds of rice better adapted to drought and saltwater intrusion.
In the long-term, the ministry will give priority to the construction of facilities to cope with drought and salt intrusion and complete an irrigation system management project for rural development in the region.
Central Highland irrigation works dry out
A number of irrigation facilities in the Central Highland provinces have run out of water, though the dry season has just begun.
As a result, many local crops, especially coffee and rice, will face water shortages.
Only 185 out of the 770 water reservoirs in Dak Lak province contain sufficient amount of water, while 90 others have only 50 percent of their designed capacity.
Meanwhile, 135 out of the 159 irrigation works in Dak Nong province have their water under the normal levels. Of these, five have dried out.
Many lakes and streams in Kon Tum and Gia Lai provinces have also run out of water.
The Central Highland provinces have devised a master irrigation plan to last through 2020 and with a vision towards 2030.
Accordingly, the region will upgrade and build 2,168 irrigation facilities to serve 539,770 hectares of crops – mainly rice and coffee.
El Nino causes estimated loss of VND12 billion for Long An
El Nino has aggravated drought and salinisation in the Mekong Delta province of Long An, affecting nearly 3,300 hectares of rice in Can Duoc and Can Giuoc districts.
Le Van Hoang, Director of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said another 10,500 hectares of paddy fields in Duc Hoa, Ben Luc and Tan Tru districts may be without adequate water due to the weather patterns. Total losses were estimated at 12 billion VND (roughly 540,000 USD).
According to the official, as 2015 saw prolonged heat waves, the department teamed up with competent agencies to bring water from the Tien River to the Vam Co Tay River. It plans to feed the Vam Co Dong River with water from Dau Tieng Lake.
The department has also instructed agencies and district People’s Committees to keep a close watch on water quality in rivers, while encouraging locals to take the initiative in storing up water for farming and using the natural resources economically. They should not use water from salinised areas.
The department urged relevant units to inspect culverts regularly to prevent salinity from leaking into rice fields.
Deputy PM directs south-central region to prevent drought
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc directed the south-central region and Central Highlands to take drastic measures to prevent drought at a working session with local authorities in Ninh Thuan province on February 22.
He urged the localities to examine water reservoirs and build proper plans for water usage, prioritising local daily activities, animals, and highly-economic crops.
It is important to define areas that are prone to water deficiency to prepare appropriate plans for growing drought-resistant crops and speeding up the construction of irrigation facilities, especially canal systems, he said, adding that enhancing public awareness of using water economically is essential to that end.
The Deputy PM asked ministries and sectors to save water at reservoirs to provide sufficient water for drought-hit areas during the dry season, stressing the need for supplementary policies to support locals in affected regions.
In the long run, it is essential to arrange sufficient capital to improve water reservoirs and canal networks, while implementing effectively forest fire prevention and forest protection measures.
The same day, the Deputy PM made a fact-finding tour of the Song Sat water reservoir and inspected the situation at the Tan My dam. He also visited locals in dry areas of Khanh Tan hamlet, Nhon Hai commune, Ninh Hai district.