The Central Highlands province of Dak Lak has lost more than 3,000ha of coffee plants and 1,000ha of rice in this year's dry season thus far.

The provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development estimates the damage at several million dollars, but is yet to release specific figures.

Water levels in reservoirs have already dropped to alarmingly low levels, rivers and streams are drying up and more than 220,000ha of perennial industrial crops such as coffee, pepper and cacao are at risk.

The lack of water has not only affected agricultural production but also the daily lives of thousands of households in the province.

"I have to go to a nearby stream before sunrise to dig for water. But it takes me hours to find some," said Y Krin Eban, a resident of Krong Bong District.

The situation is not likely to improve anytime soon.

Tran Van Thieu, Director of the Dak Lak Water Supply and Construction JSC, said the company's water reserves has dropped to 4,000 cubic metres, which can only meet 75-80 per cent of local demand for clean water.

"If the drought continues, and farmers keep pumping underground water, our reserves will drop even lower," he added.

To deal with the prolonged water shortage, the province has set up a drought control committee and deployed water trucks in residential areas. However, officials admit that such measures are unlikely to provide lasting relief.

Dr. Le Ngoc Bau, head of the Western Highlands Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute, noted drought is common in the Central Highlands region during the dry-season.

"A sound irrigation and water management system is required as part of a permanent solution for the region's water shortage problem, and we need to take other measures including planting forests to conserve water both above and under the ground. Switching to crops that are more drought resistant should also be considered," he said.

Large investments are required for such large-scale projects, said Trang Quang Thanh, head of the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, adding that his office has requested the Dak Lak administration for more funds.-VNA