|Farmers get water from a tree stump in Ninh Thuan Province's Phuoc Trung Commune for their crops. Many are struggling to find alternative water supplies in the drought-striken region. — VNA/VNS Photo Duc Anh
CENTRAL REGION (VNS)— Farmers in the Central region are struggling to find alternative water supply for their crops and animals as an acute drought dries up their nearest sources.
Many provinces in the region have been hit by the prolonged heatwave and drought, with Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan, Quang Ngai, Quang Tri and Ha Tinh among the hardest hit.
In Ninh Thuan, provincial authorities declared an emergency last week, with farmers having to drive their cattle herds long distances to find water.
Every morning, farmers are taking turns to take their cattle to a small canal in the Hau Sanh grasslands in Ninh Phuoc District, which receives a little flow released from the Don Duong Reservoir in Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.
Dong Thai Binh said he had to bring his sheep from a farm 10km away from the grassland to be closer to the only source of water. He said 50 of his herd of 500 sheep had died of thirst.
Another farmer, Nguyen Van Thang, said his herd of 30 cows had to walk 30km to reach a pond used by a dyke construction site. Thang said he was worried that the water there was also diminishing fast.
The costs of moving the cattle, land lease, grass and water for emergencies have already risen to the level that some farmers cannot endure anymore.
"We can do this for a month, at the most," said Ba Trung Huy, whose 300 sheep are 10 years old.
The heat and drought are expected to last until September, and all reservoirs in the province are almost if not completely dry.
In adjacent Binh Thuan Province, drought has hit 525ha of rice fields and 450ha of dragon fruit gardens. Another 976ha of land has been left uncultivated to reduce losses.
By now, water level at all reservoirs in the locality reach 12 per cent of their total capacity, an endangered level as the drought is unlikely to stop.
Farmers in Quang Ngai Province's Ly Son Island have dug wells deeper than normal to irrigate their rice fields and garlic gardens, but with clean water getting increasingly scarce, the well is serving daily use and the crops are left out.
In the island, 420 open wells and 150 bored wells cannot supply enough water for agricultural irrigation and household use. Many of the wells have been affected by saline intrusion, or have dried up.
The island's underground water has a supply capacity of 10,000 cu.m a day, according to a research report from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
The ministry plans to build a water supply station with a capacity of supplying 1,000cu.m a day for 10,000 households on the island.
In Quang Tri Province, the agriculture division in Huong Hoa District said 1,000ha of cassava and 300ha of coffee plants have withered.
Officials said last year's average rainfall was much lower than the usual at 1,000mm, so local reservoirs were experiencing critical shortages. They could only irrigate half the rice fields and pepper vines in the district.
In Quang Binh Province's Bo Trach District, 70 per cent of total pepper area has withered. Prolonged heat has dried up rivers and streams in the province and a large area of rice fields has not been cultivated.
Officials here are expecting drought hit areas to suffer hunger, with farm production falling by 50 to 70 per cent.
Central government agencies and provincial authorities have proposed several measures, but not much action can be taken when water sources are very scarce. As in Ninh Thuan, officials here say they are relying on the release of water from Central Highlands reservoirs.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has asked the Ministry of Industry and Trade to order hydropower plants to release water for irrigation.
The ministry has also obtained approval to provide VND532 billion (US$24.7 million) in funds and 13,000 tonnes of rice to drought-hit localities towards mitigating the hardships facing residents.
Rainfall of between five and 20mm on Wednesday has helped lower temperature and forest-fire risk in this province. — VNS