A farmer stands in his rice field in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang. The field has been damaged due to saltwater intrusion (Photo: VNA)
Hanoi (VNA) – The Central Steering Committee on Natural Disaster Prevention and Control must continuously direct ministries, sectors and localities to implement measures to cope with and address the consequences of drought and saltwater intrusion in the Central Highlands, south central region, and the Mekong Delta.

Speaking at a conference in Hanoi on April 15, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat, also head of the committee, recommended closely monitoring the developments of drought and salinity and reporting back to the Government for proper revision and adjustment of policies to support the drought-hit regions.

The ministry will direct relevant agencies to forecast the impacts of saltwater encroachment in the Mekong Delta and evaluate water resources at hydropower reservoirs and river basins and help farmers shift to growing drought-resistant plants, especially for the 2016 summer-autumn crop.

It will also disseminate advanced irrigation and water-saving techniques to each locality, business and local, the Minister said, adding that the provision of water storage equipment for locals will continue with the foreseeable goal of ensuring sufficient food and fresh water for local daily activities.

Localities and relevant agencies need to keep reviewing water resources and anticipating the weather conditions to help people proactively cope with the possibly prolonged and extensive drought, and also take precautions against wildfires, he noted.

According to the Central Steering Committee on Natural Disaster Prevention and Control, the rainfall in the Central Highlands and south central region from late 2015 to the present is very low, with hydropower reservoirs containing much less water than their designed capacity, and some small reservoirs even being dried out.

The drought has effected some 70 percent of the cultivation areas in these regions, with Dak Lak, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan being the hardest hit.

Saltwater has intruded as far as 90km inland in the Mekong Delta, about 10-25km farther than usual.

Up to 11 out of the 13 cities and provinces in the delta were affected by salinity which caused serious water shortages and damaged agriculture production.

As of April 13, 2016, more than 390,000 households in the Central Highlands , Mekong Delta, and south central region were faced with water shortages. Drought and saltwater intrusion damaged over 232,000 ha of rice, 61,992 ha of fruits, and 4,052 ha of seafood. The total economic loss was estimated at over 5.1 trillion VND (229.5 million USD).

Head of the Department of Search and Rescue under the Ministry of National Defence Truong Duc Nghia said military units have raised over 30 billion VND (1.35 million USD) to support locals in the drought-stricken regions. The units have transported 34,246 cubic metres of fresh water to residential areas in Ninh Thuan, Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Ben Tre, Soc Trang, Tra Vinh and Tien Giang, and helped locals drill 59 wells and dredge 35 lakes and 10.5 km of canals.

The Government and localities nationwide have also provided over 1 trillion VND and 5,220 tonnes of rice in aid to the regions.-VNA