Water crisis developing in drought-hit Vietnam: UN

A water crisis is developing in central and southern Vietnam as the region is hit by its worst drought in recent history. The United Nations says 1.5 million people face an acute shortage of drinking water.
Tan Qiuyi Channel NewsAsia 4 Apr 16;

KON TUM, Vietnam: Life has become harder for Ta Dinh Hao since the rains stopped earlier than usual last September.

The once teeming fish pond in front of his concrete house in Vietnam’s Central Highlands is now parched earth. His rice field has been dead for months and the cassava is struggling, but the 47-year-old farmer’s biggest worry is the dangerously low water level in his household well.

If the well dries up, he could afford to buy drinking water for another two or three months. “But after that, we won’t last,” he said with a sad smile.


A record drought across central and southern Vietnam is affecting the water supply and livelihoods of nearly 1.8 million people, 80 per cent of them in urgent need of drinking water, a United Nations situation report says. Twelve out of Vietnam’s 63 provinces have so far declared a state of emergency.

The drought is forecast to peak in April and persist through May, which means relief may not come until June, a late start for the rainy season. “The thing is even in the wet season now, people, especially farmers, can feel the drought,” said Nguyen Dang Quang, head of division at the National Hydrometeorological Forecasting Centre (NHFC). NHFC's records show the Central Highlands has experienced drought for the past two years at least.

Drought is a slow onset disaster, making it a less visible and more forgettable crisis than typhoons and earthquakes that strike Vietnam’s neighbours, but it is as much a crisis, said the UN’s Vietnam Resident Coordinator Pratibha Mehta.

“People are not dying today, people have not been forced to leave belongings, so all those things have not happened,” she said, “But that does not mean they are not suffering.”


Experts blame the drought on climate change, citing the prolonged El Nino phenomenon affecting all of Southeast Asia. Chinese hydro-power dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River have also been linked to severe saltwater intrusion exacerbating the drought in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

Aid workers said there is little doubt local factors such as intensive farming and deforestation in the drought-hit areas themselves are also at work. An official report released in 2015 shows the Central Highlands lost 14 per cent of its forest cover in seven years, equivalent to more than 50,000 hectares a year.

Fewer trees means less capacity to trap and hold groundwater, said Trinh Trong Nghia of Plan International Vietnam. “That is scientifically proven, (and) it links to drought in that area.”

Hanoi has committed US$23 million to emergency drought relief, intended for drilling wells and transporting water and rice to stricken localities.

Vietnam’s long-term strategy to address the drought’s root causes is less clear. The government has invested in reforestation and forest protection in the Central Highlands in recent years, but experts agree it is not enough.

Concerted effort is needed to help local communities switch to more sustainable cultivation, adapt to long-term drought, and raise environmental awareness, Nghia said. The task list is long and Vietnam is starting from a low base.

In Kon Tum city, Channel NewsAsia drove past residents hosing down their porches and house plants in the afternoon heat, oblivious to the thirst in Hao’s drought-stricken village less than two hours’ drive away.


The impact of drought is starting to show on Vietnam’s growth figures. Minister of investment and planning Bui Quang Vinh has warned that damage to agricultural output could drag growth down to 5.45 per cent this year, under the 6.7 per cent target for 2016.

The real cost of Vietnam’s record drought, however, may not be known for years. The effect on nutrition, children’s school attendance, and healthcare services is not immediate, said Mehta.

“All of these implications will be slower to see but there will be implications.”


Normally, Hao is busy sowing crops or tending to his fields at this time of year. “But without water, there is nothing to do” he said.

A short walk away, Tham’s household well has hit rock bottom. The water they can pump up is unusable, muddy with sediment and rocks. Her family is relying on bottled water and what is left in their rainwater tank. Like Hao, she offered the Channel NewsAsia team a drink nonetheless.

Their province of Kon Tum declared a state of emergency in mid-March but the village is remote and has yet to receive government help.

"We just stay and wait for the rain," Tham told Channel NewsAsia. “It’s misery, but we have nowhere else to go.”

- CNA/pp

Drought in Vietnam will become 'dangerous' in April: forecast
Chi Nhan, Thanh Nien News 29 Mar 16;

Drought and saltwater intrusion in Vietnam’s southern and central regions will persist through April, according to experts.

Nguyen Dang Quang, a drought expert at the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting, said at a Monday forum in Hanoi that the intense El Nino phenomenon from last year will last for two more months.

Temperatures in the central and southern Vietnam in April and May will be around one degree Celsius higher than the average in recent years.

“April will be an extremely dangerous time for drought and saltwater intrusion in the regions,” Quang said, as cited by Tuoi Tre newspaper.

Experts at the conference said salinization of the Tien and Hau Rivers, the main tributaries of the Mekong River, will hit an alarmingly high level.

Nearly half of the 2.2 million hectares (5.4 million acres) of arable land in the Mekong Delta had been attacked by saltwater and hundreds of thousands of locals are suffering from water scarcity.

Economic impacts

Bui Quang Vinh, Minister of Investment and Planning, said at a government meeting last Saturday that the damage to agriculture activities may drag economic growth this year to 5.45 percent, from 6.68 percent in 2015.

A report from the Southern Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting said in the southern region the mercury will rise to 39 degrees in April and early May.

The report said the region will stay hot and dry until rain arrives in late May.

Monsoon flood is considered a bliss to the delta farmers as it washes up salinity from the dry season and freshens up fields for the next crops. But this year it will come around several months later than usual, possibly in October.

Last year the water level in the region dropped to the lowest in history amid the intense El Nino.

VN's rice supply may decrease due to drought and saline intrusion
VietNamNet Bridge 4 Apr 16;

Opinions vary about the rice supply in the context of the serious drought and saline intrusion in the Mekong River Delta, the rice granary of Vietnam.

The Plantation Agency reported that 140,000 hectares of the 2015-2016 winter-spring crop have been affected by the drought. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) predicted that the sowing on 500,000 hectares of rice fields, or 30 percent total area of the summer-autumn crop, would be delayed due to the drought and saline intrusion.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam Food Association (VFA) has predicted high rice output available for export in 2016, about 8.6 million tons.

Huynh The Nang, VFA’s chair and general director of Vinafood 2, one of the two major rice export corporations, confirming the figure, said that 3.87 million tons would be from the winter-spring crop, 2.89 million tons from the summer-autumn crop and 1.08 million tons from the autumn-winter crop. Besides, 750,000 tons of rice left from 2015 could also be used for export.

In 2015, Vietnam exported 8.1 million tons of rice, both through official and across-border channels. If Vinafood’s prediction is true, Vietnam would export 500,000 tons more in 2016 if compared with last year.

The Vietnam Food Association (VFA) has predicted high rice output available for export in 2016, about 8.6 million tons.
Regarding exports in the first half of this year, VFA plans to sell 3.1 million tons, not including the export volume across the border line. Of this, 1.3 million tons would be exported in the first quarter, or 100,000 tons higher than initially planned, an increase of 56 percent compared with the last year’s same period. Meanwhile, 1.8 million tons would be sold in the second quarter, the same as the same period last year.

Le Thanh Tung, a senior official from MARD, declined to comment about the high export volume predicted by MARD in the context of serious drought in Mekong Delta. However, he said the rice output in 2016 may be at the same level as 2015.

Also, according to Tung, it is impossible to declare the volume of rice for export now. The figure would only be officially made public at the conference reviewing the production of the winter-spring to be held in some days.

“It is quite a delicate matter to speak about the volume of rice for export, because this may affect millions of people,” he explained.

A local agriculture official in Mekong Delta said he is not sure about the output, but affirmed that the supply will not be as high as in previous years.

Local newspapers quoted some rice merchants in An Giang and Tien Giang provinces as reporting that the rice price has been increasing because of concerns about the short supply to be caused by the drought.

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