Since the end of 2015, unusually dry conditions and a shortage of rainfall have seriously affected Viet Nam. These conditions which are associated with El Niño, have led to severe drought in parts of the central, central highlands and southern regions of the country, including the Mekong Delta. Some water levels are at the lowest recorded in 90 years.
“In 2015, there was lower than average rainfall during the rainy season which ended two months earlier than in previous years. Water shortage has been compounded by saltwater intrusion. Salinity is four times higher than seasonal averages,” said Phan Duy Le, Vice Chairman of Quoi Dien commune in Thanh Phu district, Ben Tre province. “The consequences are very concerning. The drought and salty water have been threatening crops and agricultural production, and most importantly, access to drinking water for local people.”
Saltwater intrusion has affected fifty percent of the Mekong Delta region, reaching 70-90kilometer inland, 20-25 kilometers further than seasonal averages.
The Viet Nam Red Cross Society has been monitoring the situation in coordination with the Department of Natural Disaster Prevention and Control (NCNDPC) for months. They estimate that over 400,000 households have been affected to date, including over 195,000 households who have no access to safe water.
In the Southern Central region, 23,000 hectares of rice paddy (accounting for 45 percent of total farming land) had to stop production. In the Mekong Delta, 160,000 hectares of rice land has been damaged with up to 500,000 hectares of rice paddy in total under threat due to a lack of water. At least 300,000 households (1.5 million people) have not had no income for several months due to the impact of the situation on their livelihoods.
“I have never experienced such a drought and salinity in my life,” said 65-year-old Vo Thi Hoa, who is living with her husband and two nephews in Quoi Dien. “Norrmally, safe drinking water remains available and could be stored in January. I have never bought water before but so far I have had to buy it three times”.
The Viet Nam Red Cross Society has released VND 4.2 billion (USD 188,000) from its emergency fund for the initial response to support 11,000 households in 11 provinces with bottled water, water storage containers and water purification tablets. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is also supporting the response with funds from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.
The Viet Nam Red Cross Society has launched a joint campaign with the NCNDPC titled “Together for the communities affected by drought and saltwater intrusion in the central highlands and the Mekong Delta.” An SMS fundraising campaign is also underway to further support the response efforts in affected communities.
“The Viet Nam Red Cross Society is well placed to continue our work with the authorities, informing communities on the best measures to take for their own health and safety and ensuring they have clean water,” says Doan Van Thai, Viet Nam Red Cross Society Secretary General. “Yet there are many families in need across the country and we need to be prepared for the number to increase.”
While water and food remain immediate needs, in the medium and long term support will be needed to maintain the supply of clean water and educate and create awareness around good hygiene practises and sanitation. Help may also be needed to boost peoples’ livelihoods, such as through the purchase of seedlings to replant lost crops.
El Niño has been affecting a number of Southeast Asian countries since the last quarter of 2015. Viet Nam is one of the most severely affected, largely as a consequence of higher temperatures and below-average precipitation during the rainy season. 39 out of the countries 63 provinces have been affected by drought and saltwater intrusion, of which 12 provinces have declared drought and saltwater intrusion emergencies at different levels