The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is going through the worst drought in nearly 100 years and large areas of paddy fields will likely be damaged, officials said at a meeting Wednesday.
Agriculture minister Cao Duc Phat said the delta is going to suffer from prolonged effects of El Nino conditions which started taking a toll last year, when rainfall dropped by 20-50 percent from previous years and the water level of the Mekong River hit a 90-year low.
The thirsty delta is experiencing salinization two months earlier than usual. Salinity has encroached 40-93 kilometers into major rivers of the delta.
Phat said 30 percent of the 1.55 million hectares of the winter-spring crop is under threat.
Vinh Long Province, more than 100 kilometers from the nearest coast, is suffering salinity for the first time in history, while several coastal provinces are likely to see water shortages for several months, he said.
Kien Giang Province has reported more than 40,000 hectares of rice fields were destroyed.
“The damage has continued to become even more severe,” Phat said, as cited by local media. “We need urgent response measures.”
Officials said dealing with salinization in the delta is a matter of life and death as the area provides more than half of rice for the country, as well as 70 percent of fruit and seafood supply.
Nguyen Phong Quang, deputy head of the Mekong Delta Steering Committee, an advisory unit for the region, said irrigation projects need to be built in key farming areas to protect fresh water sources from salinization.
In the long term, Quang said, the government needs to cooperate with neighboring countries for stronger measures.