Vietnam Sees Little Relief from Dangerous Drought

2016-06-07
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A boy looks for fish in a nearly dry canal in the Long Phu district in the southern Mekong Delta as Vietnam suffers its worst drought in nearly a century with salinization hitting farmers especially hard, March 8, 2016.
A boy looks for fish in a nearly dry canal in the Long Phu district in the southern Mekong Delta as Vietnam suffers its worst drought in nearly a century with salinization hitting farmers especially hard, March 8, 2016.
AFP

The late rain that has doused parts of central Vietnam is unlikely to break the drought that has hammered the country and its neighbors, costing the Vietnamese economy more $670 million in lost rice and fruit output.

According to a report by Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment, the drought has cost more than 15 trillion Vietnamese dong (U.S. $671 million) for the dry season of 2016.

A resident in Kien Giang Province told RFA that even though rain finally came on June 6, the ground still contains salt that has intruded into agricultural land throughout much of Vietnam.

“The drought is lingering on, and it has not rained much,” he said. “The rain level is still low, and the soil is still embedded with salt. Rice has been planted but it does not look so good.”

The Mekong Delta, or Cuu Long as it is called in Vietnam, is estimated to have lost about 350,000 tons of rice, while Ben Tre province has lost almost all of its 2015-2016 rice crop. Farmers have harvested only about 800 tons of rice in all of Ben Tre, a much lower yield than the 80,000 tons usually harvested.

According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, some 250,000 hectares of rice production have been lost to the drought, seriously affecting 288,000 households and more than a million people.

Rice isn’t the only crop affected by the loss, as 30,000 hectares of fruit production were also lost and aquaculture losses were 6,800 hectares.

“This drought is the most serious in the central region in 30 years,” Nguyen Vinh, an advisor to Vietnam’s coffee and cocoa farmers, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. He estimated that half the coffee crop was gone.

The Mekong River has fallen to record lows, with the Vietnamese government reporting that it is at its lowest level since 1926. With the water level this low, seawater from the South China Sea moves inland,causing soil to become salty.

Many scientists think that a strong El Nino, coupled with the effects of global warming, is contributing to what is the worst drought Southeast Asia has seen in nearly a century. A dam-building spree on the Mekong by many of Vietnam’s neighboring countries is also contributing by reducing water flows.

With  the El Nino now dying, the lack of water is still being felt, said Duong Van Ni, a Can Tho University professor and expert on the Mekong Delta.

“Because of the long drought period, the water level in many areas, especially that of Tonle Sap, has decreased by 50 percent compared to the same period in the previous year,” he told RFA.

Tonle Sap is a vital lake in Cambodia that is connected to the Mekong.

While he called the drought “the main factor” contributing to crop loss, he also said the region’s dam-building boom is having an impact.

Hydroelectric dams also hold water and make it evaporate faster,” he said. “This decreases the water flowing downstream.”

Reported for RFA's Vietnamese Service by Nam Nguyen. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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