Drought salanizes Vietnam rice basket

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A woman from the Mekong Delta’s Ben Tre Province cries by her paddy field which has cracked dry due to hot spells and salinization. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

The salinity in the Mekong Delta has increased this drought season, depriving locals of water for daily use and cultivation.
Figures at hydrometeorology stations around the delta were all higher than the average last year, and the salinization has invaded up to 75 kilometers into land, according to a Tuoi Tre newspaper report Saturday.
Le Thi Phenh from the coastal province Ben Tre said sometimes she had to resort to irrigating with salinized water, and had to borrow or buy water to drink.
“Once when I was out of options, I went to the market to buy a bottle of water of 20 liters for VND10,000 (US 47 cents) to drink little by little,” she said.
Phenh pointed to a jar of water, which tasted a little salty and looked opaque and said she bought it for VND180,000 ($8.54) a cubic meter.
But it’s not always available as sellers are reluctant to travel to her remote village where poor locals can't afford to buy much, she said.
Phan Thanh Tu from another district in the province just bought two cubic meters of water for VND50,000, saying his area enjoyed the low price because it is located close to suppliers.
Prices could be twice or four times that depending on the distance.
Tu said his family has jars and tanks for around 200 cubic meters to store rain water, but it runs out every dry season and he has to buy water.
“It costs me around VND100,000 a month and I have to use it very carefully.”
Pham Trung Tinh, deputy director of Ben Tre Clean Water and Environment Hygiene Center, said the center is managing 46 water plants that run at total capacity of more than 1,200 cubic meters an hour to serve more than 40,000 families in rural areas.
But Tinh said only 36 percent of rural households have been connected to the supply.
The salty drought has already destroyed hundreds of hectares of rice fields in the delta, the country’s largest rice supply.
Nguyen Van Thuy of Ben Tre said: “We are going to die because of the dry season,” as he watched over his field in burning heat.
Phung Van An from Tien Giang Province has stopped watering his paddy field for more than ten days and more than 0,6 hectares has died.
He said he had deliberately planted short-time seeds but they still could not weather the hot days.
“They have withered after I accidentally pumped salt water into them. Now I’d just leave them to fight for themselves, and I’ll take whatever is left on harvest day,” An said.
Nugyen Van Hai, agriculture official from Tan Phu Dong District, said he has recommended that farmers not plant this season, known as the third crop between the two major winter-spring and summer-fall crops.
Hai said the weather conditions this season did not suit paddy cultivation in the area, but farmers in the district still planted nearly 25 hectares of rice fields and they are likely to lose it all.
Officials from Ba Tri District said nearly 50 hectares of rice fields in Vinh Hoa Commune have been affected by salinity.
The commune vice chairman Ho Van Phuc said he needs several more days to conclude if it is a total loss or not, but he is “sure that the yield has dropped significantly.”

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