Mekong Delta faces severe drought, salinity worsens

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Salinity has hit residents of the Mekong Delta harder this year, increasing the likelihood that the country's rice-bowl would face its worst drought since 1998, a conference heard Friday.

In fact, as many as 620,000 hectares of rice in the winter-spring crop have suffered this year because seawater with average salinity higher by 2-3 grams/liter higher than in previous years, encroached 40-50 kilometers inshore.

This accounted for 40 percent of the delta's total rice growing area and another 100,000 hectares are facing the same threat, speakers said at the conference in Soc Trang Province that sought solutions to ensure enough fresh water for production and daily life in the delta.

One-third of the population in the delta's countryside, were in need of freshwater for daily life, the National Center for Rural Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation reported.

Locals were having to buy buy freshwater at VND30,000-60,000 per cubic meter, it added.

Coastal provinces like Kien Giang, Ben Tre and Ca Mau were the hardest hit by the salinity problem.

Tran Quang Cui, deputy director of Kien Giang's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the province was suffering from a critical dearth of freshwater for both production and daily life.

In some local island districts, people were having to buy freshwater at up to VND120,000 per cubic meter, he said.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Cao Duc Phat, warned the salinity would get much worse in the next two months given the dry and hot weather and absence of rainfall.

Worsening salinity combined with a 20-30 percent in water flows in the Mekong River increases the likelihood of a historic drought hitting the delta, according to the National Center for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting.

The ministry said they would propose to the government that it disburses VND220 billion to help irrigate 550,000 hectares of rice during the summer-autumn crop next month.

The agriculture ministry was also closely observing all water sources on the Mekong River to issue timely warnings about changes to provinces and local people, Phat said.

The ministry would work with scientific agencies in reviewing irrigation plans in the delta, taking into consideration climate change influences as well, he added.

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