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Mekong sees worst drought in 90 years

Update: February, 19/2016 - 09:23
A farmer stands in his rice field in Mekong Delta Kien Giang Province's Nam Yen Commune. The field has been hit by the rice blast disease due to saltwater instrusion. Fighting against saltwater instrusion is one of tasks that Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc orders ministries to prioritise now. — VNA/VNS Photo Huy Hai
HCM CITY (VNS) — Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered relevant ministries and Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces to prioritise the fight against drought and saltwater intrusion which have severely affected agriculture and fisheries and caused a crippling water shortage.

Speaking at a seminar in Can Tho City on Wednesday, he said each province should have a comprehensive and appropriate plan for this and mobilise all resources required to implement it.

"They should ensure that people's livelihoods are not affected, everyone has enough water and food, and diseases do not break out due to the prolonged drought," he said.

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).

The ongoing El Nino phenomenon caused the rainy season to come late and end earlier last year. This has caused a shortage of fresh water and saltwater intrusion to begin two months earlier then normal.

Saltwater has encroached 40-95km inland up 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.

Tran Cong Chanh, secretary of the Hau Giang Province's Party Committee, said he has ordered the drilling of six bore wells to supply water for farming and household use.

Hau Giang has also built a water pumping station in Long My District to increase supply since the district suffers a severe shortage.

Chanh said drought alone is easier to cope with since people can resume agricultural production once there is water again, but saltwater intrusion would have a lingering effect even 10 years later.

Hau Giang has lost 400ha of rice.

Kien Giang, where more than 34,000ha of rice were lost – the highest in the delta - has dredged canals, built temporarily dams and closed sluice gates to keep out saltwater.

Mai Van Nhin, deputy chairman of the Kien Giang People's Committee, said, "I have never seen saltwater intrusion so far [up rivers] and for so long like now."

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.

A total of 330,000ha will be affected by the drought and saltwater, according to MARD.

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 would occur frequently and be more severe in 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 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 borewells and dredging canals to ensure there is enough water, he added. — VNS

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