The region has suffered from drought since 2016. Five provinces have declared a state of emergency earlier this month. In most places, the Mekong is between 0.1 and 1 metre above the Eastern Sea level. Lack of rain, water use and more dams have increased salinity.
Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – Drought and water salinity are threatening the lives of 180,000 householfs in the Mekong Delta, south-western Vietnam.
Over the past two months, the number of residents affected by the crisis has increased, touching 10 of the region’s 13 provinces, especially Bến Tre, Kiên Giang, Cà Mau, Long An and Tiền Giang, which declared a state of emergency in early March.
Considered the “rice bowl” of Vietnam, the Mekong Delta supplies more half of the country’s rice. However, according to government estimates, more than 362,000 hectares of rice fields and 136,000 fruit trees will be lost this year.
The Mekong Delta has suffered drought since 2016. The water level is very low, about 20 per cent lower than the record low of four years ago. In most parts of the Delta, the Mekong is between 0.1 and 1 metre above the level of the Eastern Sea.
Experts say that the lack of rain, plus greater water use along the Mekong’s tributaries, as well as more dams, are behind the drought and the greater salinity.
One direct consequence for the local population is drinking water shortages, with a cubic metre of fresh water costing up to 200,000 dongs (US).
Nguyễn Thế Hải lives in Cần Giuộc, a district in Long An province. Every day, his “family has to buy fresh water to drink and cook rice and pay at least 150,000 dongs (US.75) per cubic metre. For a family of four or five people, this means spending at least a million a month (US), four times higher than the cost of local rice.”
The Water Supply Company in Bến Tre City, the capital of Bến Tre province, is also running out of fresh water with salt entering its pipes. For this reason, some 57,000 local families (205,000 people) have had to find alternatives sources of water at higher costs.
In Bạc Liêu province, the authorities built a network of canals in recent years to counter salinity. However, these have dried up. In addition to buying drinking water, many residents rent tankers.
Trần Kim Nhung lives in the Phước Long district. “We haven’t had enough fresh water for two weeks,” she said. “To drink and cook, I have to buy expensive fresh water. How can we survive if we don’t have water to drink? Only those who experience this situation can recognise the preciousness of fresh water.”
For Mr Nguyễn, who lives in Hồng Ngự, a municipality in Đồng Tháp province, “Fresh water in ponds contains chemicals from fertilisers, pesticides and pathogens. Our only hope is the coming rainy season” (April-October 2020).