Vietnam pledges $6.3 mil to help drought-hit farmers, may clear debts

By Dinh Tuyen, Thanh Nien News

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Nearly 139,000 hectares from the winter-spring crop have been damaged by water shortage and salinization in the Mekong Delta’s worst drought in a century, the agriculture ministry said in a recent report. File photo Nearly 139,000 hectares from the winter-spring crop have been damaged by water shortage and salinization in the Mekong Delta’s worst drought in a century, the agriculture ministry said in a recent report. File photo

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The government has pledged nearly VND140 billion (US$6.3 million) to a relief fund that will support farmers affected by severe drought in the Mekong Delta. 
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Monday also ordered the central bank to work out financial arrangements that can freeze interest and charges on loans taken out by drought-hit farmers.  
In Can Tho, the hub of the delta, Dung told local officials that the central bank may consider clearing debts for the most vulnerable farmers later. 
A report from the agriculture ministry showed that nearly 139,000 hectares from the winter-spring crop have been damaged by water shortage and salinization in the delta’s worst drought in a century.
Ca Mau Province is the biggest victim with more than 49,000 hectares affected, followed by Kien Giang, Bac Lieu and Ben Tre.
Nearly 600,000 people in the delta are also suffering from water shortages, according to the ministry.
The ministry said around 500,000 hectares, or a third of the rice cultivation area in the delta, will not be arable for the summer-fall crop as the dry condition will only become worse in coming months.
Dung said local authorities should provide cultivation guidance to save farmers from further losses.
Farmers should only start the next summer-fall crop when water supply in their area is guaranteed, or they should turn the fields into shrimp farms, he said.
Dung also asked the Vietnam Mekong River Commission to urge upstream countries to discharge water from their hydropower dams to save Vietnamese paddy fields in the downstream.
The Ministry of Investment and Planning said the delta will need to invest around VND31 trillion ($S1.4 billion) in irrigation works during the 2016-2020 period to deal with rising sea level and climate change.

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