Farmers suffer in Vietnam drought, record heat

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A man in Binh Phuoc Province digs deeper into a well for water in the middle of harsh and lengthened drought. Photo by Thong Nhat

A drought in central and southern Vietnam is likely to continue for several more months, a development that spells more poverty for local farmers.

"We are sitting on fire," said Nguyen Van Duyen, a farmer from Binh Phuoc Province to the west of Ho Chi Minh City.

"We have been making use of all streams, digging our ponds and wells deeper but there's still not enough water to drink, let alone to feed plants," Duyen said.

The province agriculture authorities said it has been hot and dry in the area since late December, and 10,644 hectares of cultivation land, including 7,224 hectares of rice, have died, causing losses of around VND75 billion (US$3.58 million) in total, a record for damage caused by drought in the province.

Unofficial statistics showed that 10,585 families, or 9.3 percent of the province's population, are in need of clean water.

Several rivers in Da Nang, the hub of the central region, have been salinized while water levels at irrigation dams have dropped to 30 to 50 percent of their capacity.

Local authorities said around 2,500 hectares of rice fields are likely to die.

Weather forecasts estimated low rainfall until August and water levels in many rivers from Thua Thien-Hue Province in the mid-central region to Ninh Thuan in the south central will drop to 40 or 50 percent of that in the same periods previously.

A report from agricultural authorities in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang meanwhile said major rivers have been salinized by 15 or 30 kilometers, and the salinity was measured at 4 grams per liter.

Kien Giang water company had reduced its supply by 30 percent starting this month after its reservoirs collected less water that usual.

People in the coastal An Minh district said all their water sources are salinized. Many families in Dong Hung Commune, after using up rainwater from their many jars and unable to use salty water in their wells, have to buy water delivered by boats from other places at VND45,000 ($2.15) a cubic meter, nine times more than the normal price.

"Such a bitter price, but water is not always available. As it sells like hot cakes, the boats are reluctant to travel to houses along small canals, they only do when we beg them a lot," said local man Huynh Van Bach.

Some drought victims on the island district of Kien Hai have turned the disaster into their own windfall by sailing their fishing boat to buy water from other places and resell it to locals at VND200,000 ($9.56) a cubic meter.

Authorities in the neighboring Bac Lieu Province, known for shrimp breeding, said shrimps have died in large numbers at more than 5,000 hectares of farms in the province.

Nguyen Thanh Phong, an agriculture official, said water at the farms has been reduced while the heat alone has been too much for the creatures.

Phong said the province dares not open pipes to bring sea water into the shrimp farms for fear that it will worsen the salinization problem.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has signed a decision to use VND457.4 billion ($21.86 million) from the state budget to help 32 cities and provinces overcome the drought.

The agriculture ministry also said it managed to reach an agreement with the state-owned power monopoly Electricity of Vietnam to have hydropopwer dams discharge water sometime between the middle of this month and early June.


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