03/17/2016, 11.38
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Drought emergency in Mekong Delta: 10 million people hit, drinking water scarce

by Thanh Tung

Never before "recorded" climatic phenomena bringing  farmers and fishermen to their knees in the south of Vietnam. El Niño and dams built by China have dramatically lowered the level of the river water. The sea reclaims land and salinity levels killing crops. Environmental experts: "Beijing ignores our cry for help".

Cần Thơ (AsiaNews) - About 10 million people living in the Mekong River delta, in the far south of Vietnam, are being brought to their knees by the worst climatic events in the last 100 years. The effects of the climatic phenomenon El Niño, added to the lowering of water levels caused by Chinese dams blocking the northern part of the river, have caused severe drought and raised the salinity in the soil, to unprecedented levels. With the lowering of the waters of the Mekong, in fact, the sea has gained ground, rendering fields unusable.

The drought has destroyed 40 thousand hectares of rice fields and 122 thousand hectares of fruit trees. In February, the salt water crept up to several kilometers inland. The Agricultural Development Minister said: "The salinization reached over the past two months has never before been recorded in the history of the Mekong. The Vàm Cỏ area has lost up to 90 meters to the sea, causing an increase in the salt content in a coastal stretch of 65 km and in the Hậu River [or Bassac, a Mekong tributary river ed] ".

A further concern are the hydroelectric projects carried out by Beijing in the northern stretch of the river, which are likely to further reduce the waters reaching the delta. Last week, the Institute of studies on climate change at the University of Cần Thơ organized an international conference on the impact on the ecosystem of the Mekong dams: "We cannot predict the extent to which hydroelectric projects will cause a lowering of the water level - the experts said – but what we do know is that the annual tons of alluvial water coming down in the delta have fallen from 26 to seven".

China is working on the construction of 11 new dams on the Mekong, to be completed in the coming months. Nguyen Ngoc Tran, researcher and scholar, said: "The dams have already caused landslides and have endangered the ecological balance, to the detriment of Vietnamese farmers and fishermen who live on the delta. This year, the projects have resulted in a loss of 5 thousand billion đồng (approximately 230 million dollars) of income from agriculture".

"The high course of the river - said other experts at the conference - contains large amounts of water. The Chinese authorities should allow this water to flow from the reservoirs of the dams down to the Mekong delta. But so far, Beijing has not heard the cry for help of a small country. Little Vietnam is destined to the same fate as the other weak nations of the region".

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