The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has asked affected localities to preserve water in reservoirs and dredge rivers, canals and wells to mitigate the impact of drought and saline intrusion in the southern and central areas of the country.

Localities were also asked to restructure their crop cultivation and irrigate water in a more efficient manner.

In the south-central region and the Central Highlands, rainfall levels have dropped 50-90 percent this year compared to the first three months of last year, according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, water levels in reservoirs have reached only 60-70 percent of their designed capacity.

Saline intrusion has also affected agricultural production and the lives of local people downstream of the Vu Gia-Thu Bon River in the central province of Quang Nam and coastal areas in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.

About 27,000ha of the 2013-14 winter-spring crops in the southeast and central regions have been affected by drought.

Mai Trong Dung, deputy head of the Dak Lak province's Sub-department of Irrigation, said drought has caused damage to more than 5,500ha, including 4,000 ha of rice and 450 ha of coffee, causing 93 billion VND (4.4 million USD) in damages.

In Dak Nong province, drought has caused damage to 240ha of rice and 1,860ha of coffee and other crops in Krong No district.

In Cu Jut district, which is one of the key crop cultivation areas in Dak Nong, farmers have faced severe water shortages.

Hua Van Lam, who owns a 0.4ha rice field in Dak D'rong commune, said he may lose all his crop because of drought.

Similarly, hundreds of households in Cu Jut are in danger of losing their crops.

More than 20 reservoirs in several districts, including Krong No, Cu Jut and Dak Min, have not had water to irrigate 2,500ha of coffee, cacao and other industrial trees, according to the Dak Nong province Irrigation Work Exploiting Company. If hot weather continues and farmers do not save water, the shortage will become more severe.

The Central Highlands and south-central regions will continue to have prolonged hot weather, and the rainy season is expected to come late this year, according to the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting.

The ministry has asked the Prime Minister to order agencies to help the localities affected by drought and saline intrusion.

The ministry said that hydro-power reservoirs should release water for downstream areas when needed so that households and businesses could have sufficient water.

It also said the Government should give financial support to affected localities to cover the cost of dredging rivers and canals and pumping of water.-VNA