09:38 | 14/04/2016 Society
(VEN) - Droughts and the intrusion of saltwater have had a serious impact on production and the lives of millions of farmers, especially in the Mekong Delta, the southern central region, and the Central Highlands.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said the Vietnamese government and localities had done everything possible, but the situation remained serious, and Vietnam needed the support from the international community.
Historic droughts and salinity
Vietnam is experiencing the longest recorded El Nino spell yet. Rainfall in the Mekong Delta has fallen by an average 20-30 percent. Water flows from the Mekong River into Vietnam have dropped by about 50 percent. Higher levels of tides in the first two months of this year led to deep saltwater intrusion, of up to 70-90km in some areas, 15-20km deeper than the average level of many years. Nearly 50 percent of the area of the Mekong Delta has been affected, destroying 160,000ha of rice fields with 800,000 tonnes of rice lost.
Meanwhile, localities in the southern central region and Central Highlands have to cope with serious droughts. In Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan, and part of Khanh Hoa Province, farmers have been warned not to cultivate rice on 23,000ha of fields. Many reservoirs in the Central Highlands are now empty. Tens of thousands of households are facing a record drought, with 204,000 households or about one million persons having no fresh water to use.
Ben Tre Province People’s Committee Chairman Cao Van Trong said droughts have destroyed 14,774ha of rice fields and affected 475ha of oyster farms. Even in Dak Lak Province where 770 hydropower plants with 559 reservoirs are located, the situation is no better. By the end of February, 250 reservoirs in Dak Lak were dry. It’s predicted that by the end of the 2016 winter-spring crop, droughts will affect 80,000ha of crops, including 70,000ha of coffee, and the lives of 25,000 households.
“The government and localities have done everything possible but the situation remains serious. Vietnam needs the support from international organizations,” Minister Cao Duc Phat said.
Mobilizing international resources
At a recent workshop in Hanoi with development partners and donors in response to severe droughts and saltwater intrusion in the southern central region, the Central Highlands, and the Mekong Delta, international organizations pledged to provide Vietnam with technical and financial assistance to help Vietnam cope with climate change in the short and long term.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) said Vietnam needed to encourage local people to use water more effectively. The Japanese government has shown its interest in how to improve the irrigation systems in Ben Tre Province. JICA is considering measures to be taken by the Japanese side to accelerate this process.
According to United Nations Resident Coordinator in Vietnam Pratibha Mehta, along with considering the demand of localities that are suffering damage in order to provide financial and technical assistance, it is necessary to popularize smart production models that are adaptable to climate change. International partners and donors will assist Vietnam in coping with droughts and saltwater intrusion, prioritizing strategic projects related to the management of the use of water resources that are expected to have long-term effects.
Apart from short-term measures, Minister Phat hoped that in late April and early May ice and snow in China would melt into water and run into the Mekong River, helping reduce droughts in Vietnam. Regarding long-term measures, more than a decade ago, Vietnam invested in building a saltwater prevention dam on the Ba Lai River, a branch of the Mekong River running through Ben Tre Province. However, due to limited capital resources, Vietnam has built just one dam inshore but none along the Ba Lai River. Saltwater has now intruded deeply into the city of Ben Tre, Minister Phat said.
“We have discussed with international experts possibilities for building closed systems of freshwater reservoirs. A number of such systems have been designed, with some proposed to be built on major rivers such as the Tien River, and the Hau River. However, construction on these rivers requires large amounts of investment capital and careful environmental impact assessments and the implications on the environment of neighboring countries,” Minister Phat said.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said that damage caused by droughts and saltwater intrusion would continue increasing. So far, localities suffering damage have requested US$100 million in aid for building dams and freshwater reservoirs.