A severe lack of rain and higher-than-normal temperatures in parts of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have caused some farmers to leave their fields and rice paddies unplanted, sources inside the developing Southeast Asian countries said.
Farmers in Ha Tinh province in central Vietnam have been forced to leave their fields unplanted because of the drought, said a farmer surnamed Dan from Kỳ Anh, a rural district in the province.
“We have to wait for the rain to grow the crops,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “Normally, the main crop grows around May in the spring, but because there is no rain, we have had to leave the fields empty.”
Dan said the situation has been exacerbated by the rapid growth of manufacturing that has harmed the environment. He also accused some Chinese companies of blocking water from reaching farmers in the area.
A summer wind from the West has elevated temperatures in Ha Tinh province.
Another Ha Tinh resident surnamed Vien said the drought has caused many trees to die and left fields devoid of growth.
He said he feared that the higher-than-usual temperatures in the province would yield bigger floods this year.
The El Niño effect
In Laos, the drought has resulted in lower rice production than usual because of the El Niño effect, people familiar with the situation said.
Warmer-than-average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean cause the El Niño effect in which changes in weather patterns can lead to droughts in the Mekong region.
“Normally in June the rice begins to sprout, but this year June passed, and many farmers still have not be able to grow any rice,” said a farmer in the capital Vientiane who declined to give his name. “They are waiting for the rain, but if it does not rain, they will not be able to produce rice this season.”
The Meteorology Department of the country’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment issued a notice on July 3 that it did not expect the usual amount of rain to fall throughout Laos this summer as it had during rainy seasons in previous years.
An agriculture official who works in Luang Namtha province in northern Laos told RFA that since the drought began a few months ago, farmers who are dependent on rain water have not had enough water to irrigate their crops and begin growing rice.
The water level in the Mekong River has dropped so low that sand islands have appeared in the middle of it and caused a water supply crisis in Vientiane, he said.
“The water level in the river is at a crisis point, and we have to closely work with villagers to make sure they will take turns using water without any conflicts,” he said. “It is expected this year that rice production will not achieve the goal of 4 million tons because of the drought.”
RFA contacted the Irrigation and Cultivation Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, but no one had any information about the extent of the drought.
Cambodia’s rice belt
The drought has hit farmers hard in central and western Cambodia’s rice belt area — especially in Kampong Chhnang province — preventing them from cultivating their crops, sources there said.
As they struggle with sparse rain, the farmers worry that heavier rains, forecast to begin this week, could cause violent floods, according to a report in the Khmer Times.
But Chan Yutha, spokesperson of Cambodia’s Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, told The Phnom Penh Post on Wednesday that a dry spell caused by the El Niño effect would not have the same impact on the start of rice planting this year, and that rainfall would last until September.
Neighboring Thailand is also experiencing a severe drought that has threatened to reduce its rice production this year.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer services. Translated by Ninh Pham of the Vietnamese Service and Ounkeo Souksavanh of the Lao Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.