Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has asked municipal and provincial People's Committees to take drastic measures to protect livestock from the prolonged icy weather.

The prolonged cold snap has killed more than 8,000 buffaloes and cows.

The cold spell is forecast to hit the country's central region on Jan. 17.

The National Hydro-meteorological Forcast Centre has sent warnings to officials in the country's northern mountainous areas, where frost is likely to form and temperatures may fall below 7 degrees Celsius.

In a message sent to authorities in northern localities on Jan. 16, Dung said task forces would be sent by municipal and provincial People's Committees to work with affected regions and help store, feed and keep animals warm.

He also asked them to pay special attention to communities living in the country's northern mountainous region.

Dung asked localities to provide materials and money to be given to poor households. Impoverished ethnic communities living in the north will have access to social welfare programmes so that they may consolidate breeding facilities and buy feed.

The Prime Minister said local authorities would be held responsible if they allowed livestock to freeze to death. The officials have been instructed to tell farmers about regulated breeding techniques that were drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. They must provide farmers with updated weather forecasts.

"Cities and provinces must not underestimate and be passive when it comes to protecting animals from cold weather and hunger," said Dung.

Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development, Natural Resources and Environment, and Information and Communications have been ordered to supervise the implementation of the Prime Minister's instructions and collect updated figures about livestock killed during the prolonged cold spells.

They have also been instructed to provide seedlings and animals to help farmers in affected regions recover from their losses.

The northern mountainous province of Lao Cai has had nearly 1,200 buffaloes and cows die.

The provincial Hydro-meteorological Forecast Centre said the weather fell to 1.1 degrees Celsius in Sa Pa on Jan. 16.

The centre's deputy director Luu Minh Hai said temperatures would drop even lower in the coming days.

Prolonged icy weather is also making farmers in Hanoi 's outlying districts anxious.

Fish breeders in Thanh Tri district's Dong My commune said demand for fish had recently increased. However, they did not dare to catch or even feed their fish for fear that the younger fish would freeze to death or their development would be adversely impacted when they swim to the icy surface to eat.

Chairman of Dong My Fisheries Cooperative Nguyen Van Bau said fish prices increased by 15-25 percent compared with those in early December.

Deputy chairman of Van Hoa Commune People's Committee Nguyen Dinh Hong in Ba Vi district said prolonged icy weather had adversely impacted milk production in the area.

The volume of fresh milk had dropped by 10-20 percent in a number of households, said Hong./.