Drought, salinity force five provinces to declare a state of emergency

About 33,00 hectares of rice fields have been damaged. Almost 70,000 households suffer from water shortages. Vietnam is the world’s third largest rice exporter after India and Thailand. Salinity affects about half the districts in 10 of the 12 provinces in the Mekong region. In 2016, drought caused US4 million worth of losses.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vietnam's "rice bowl", the Mekong Delta, could be empty. Five of its provinces – Kiên Giang, Bến Tre, Tiền Giang, Cà Mau, Long An – have declared a state of emergency because of years of drought and rising salinity.

Vietnam is the world’s third largest rice exporter after India and Thailand. Usually, its south-western region produces more than half of the country’s rice.

However, water shortages have negatively affected some 33,000 hectares of rice fields and almost 70,000 households, Vietnam’s national television reported on Friday, citing the latest data from the country’s department of water resources.

This month salinity is set to rise by four grams per litre in the Mekong Delta, affecting as many as 110 kilometres in some major estuaries, Ho Chi Minh City’s Southern Institute of Water Resources Research reports. This is three to five kilometres more than in the same period in 2016.

Vietnam’s National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting expects greater salinity on the short run. Meanwhile, water flowing from the Mekong River into the region this month should remain very low, about 20 per cent less than the same period in 2016.

For Hoang Phuc Lam, the Centre’s deputy director, the lack of rain, growing water consumption in river tributaries, and greater water storage in dams are likely to cause drought and make saline intrusion worse and last longer.

The government estimates that 362,000 hectares of rice fields and 136,000 fruit trees in the Mekong Delta will be affected by drought and salinity this year. The net result is that more than 120,000 families will experience water shortages.

As of this month, salinity affected about half of the districts in 10 of the 12 provinces and one city in the region.

The 2016 delta drought caused losses worth 8.9 trillion dong (US4 million), wiping out 250,000 hectares of rice fields, 130,000 hectares of cropland and 30,000 hectares of fruit trees, local media reported.