Historic drought forces Vietnamese farmers to migrate for city jobs

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A farmer from Soc Trang Province (L) has taken up construction jobs in Ho Chi Minh City after the severe dry weather destroyed his family's rice fields. Photo credit: Duyen Phan/Tuoi Tre A farmer from Soc Trang Province (L) has taken up construction jobs in Ho Chi Minh City after the severe dry weather destroyed his family's rice fields. Photo credit: Duyen Phan/Tuoi Tre

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Locked doors, empty water tanks and plowing tools hung idly around is a familiar scene in many parts of Soc Trang Province in the Mekong Delta  these days.
Months of extreme drought, the worst in the Mekong Delta’s history, has cast a heavy spell in the agriculture province, almost turning it into abandoned land.
Unofficial statistics from three districts of the province showed that 22,000 people have left for factories in Ho Chi Minh City and nearby industrial centers like Binh Duong and Dong Nai, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported Friday. The number was several times more than in previous years.
Similar situation is also going on in other provinces in the delta.
Officials in Kien Giang said some 12,400 people from two districts An Bien and Vinh Thuan have left homes for jobs elsewhere this year.
In Tien Giang Province, some communes have seen 80 percent of young people leaving.
Local officials said normally the migration force only includes people who do not own any piece of land.
But the severe dry weather means people with huge rice fields are also empty-handed.
A report from the agriculture ministry showed that more than 100,000 hectares of rice fields in the Mekong Delta have been destroyed since late last year due to severe drought and salinity intrusion amid intense El Nino conditions.
Millions of people including those from 43,000 families in Soc Trang have been suffering from shortage of clean water, so as 25,000 families in Kien Giang and 86,200 families in Ben Tre.
Many people thus have left their children behind to find new ways to make a living.
Duong Thi Men, a woman in Soc Trang, has been taking care of two grandchildren all alone after their parents went to work in Ho Chi Minh City's neighbor province of Binh Duong.
“We have a rice field of 4,000 square meters but the heat was so hard this year so the field gave us nothing to eat,” Me said, rocking the kids on a hammock in her empty house.
Thach Thi Sa Vet, one of the migrant workers, just came home and her children for the first time in six months last weekend.
Vet and her husband has been working as porters at a wood factory in southern province of Dong Nai, managing to save around VND2 million (US$90) to send home every month.
“We thought really hard before we decided to leave our kids to their grandparents. The rice business has been so bad,” Vet said, as cited by Tuoi Tre.
A district official in Soc Trang said the migration wave has been going on for years, but it is strongest this year.
Many grandparents in the province have taken over the babysitting job as they believe that the kids’ separation from their parents is still a better choice than all of them left in hunger.
“There’s nothing to live on here, no factories, and now no land,” said Thach Thi Ut who is taking care of six children of five different couples.
“At least by going away, they can find enough money to afford their children's school fees,” Ut told the news paper.

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