"Not a drop to drink'

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2000 custard apple trees.

Around four years old.

To a tree, they withered and died.

That was a month ago.

Now, he can do nothing but watch a hectare of his mango trees fade in the relentless heat.

"Draught like this... there's no way I can save the trees," says Tien of An Cu Commune, Tinh Bien District in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, whose family's livelihood depends on the fruit trees.

The farmer has faced draught in the mountainous region earlier, but he has "surrendered to the rare harsh heat of this year."

Actually, Tien is not worried about water for the trees. Not anymore. "I'd have to leave them anyway. But if it keeps being so hot, even people would have little water."

Tien had spent VND4 million (US$208) trying to drill a borewell to save his trees, but the workers left after several days of looking for water and finding nothing underground.

Wells and ponds around the nearby Dai (Long) Mountain have exposed their bottoms and the rivers are barely flowing.

The Ba Den Well in the commune is the main source of water for people in Tinh Bien District, especially on hot days like these. But residents have noticed that the well has much less water than in previous years.

"Without that well, it will be really hard for people here," says Do Van Phat, an old man living at the foot of Phu Cuong Mountain.

Mai Van Phen, who lives nearby, said to carry water home from the well takes too long a time for them. They would have to do so twice a day, and each time it would take hours. The queue at the well is long, said Phen.

Some people in the district station themselves at noon or midnight at any well that still has water. They collect water in mugs until a bucket is filled.

Duong Thi Hong and three members from her family stayed for more than three hours at a well until 9 in the night to get two buckets that were barely full.

"There're too many people during the day, so I won't get any water even if I can approach the well," Hong said.

Huynh Van Phuong and his brothers would carry ten buckets at a time because "it's hard to take water each time so I have to get a lot."

But many times, there's not enough water to fill all of his buckets.

Deep trouble

More than 1,000 families in Bien Bach Commune of the delta's Ca Mau Province are also facing a severe water shortage.

Some ponds that still have water in the area have been salinized, said commune head Tran Van Tuan.

People now buy water from boats for VND10,000 every 200 liters. Official water suppliers in other delta provinces charge people VND3,000 a cubic meter, which is much cheaper.

Islanders off Kien Giang Province are buying water from their neighbors, who have equipped themselves with water tanks, at more than VND150,000 a cubic meter.

The water treatment system on Tho Chu Island has been broken for years while a reservoir containing 30,000 cubic meters of water that cost more than VND5 billion has not been completed. The reservoir was meant to serve residents of the Nam Du Islands.

In the central region, people in the mountainous Dakrong District of Quang Tri Province are saying the heat has come earlier and is much more harsh than usual.

And the forest fire in Sa Thay District, Kon Tum was still blazing as of March 17 after destroying hundreds of hectares including primary forest.

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