The government of Vietnam declared a state of emergency last week in five Mekong Delta provinces in response to prolonged drought which has led to a build-up of salinity, threatening yields of rice and fruit in the region.
Increased salinity is spreading throughout the Mekong Delta, as water flows from the Mekong River are about 20 percent less than in 2016, which is the most recent crisis year. In 2016, which is regarded to have been the worst drought in the region in 100 years, agricultural losses were estimated excess of $380 Million USD, with about 17 million people affected. Vietnam is the world’s third largest exporter of rice, after India and Thailand.
The situation is attributed to lack of rain combined with growing water consumption upstream, as well as increased water storage in dams, mostly in China. So far in March, salinity levels exceed those set in February and those set for the same period in 2016. The short-term crisis is expected to last through April, while saline intrusion and water deficit are expected to be longer-term conditions.
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane, Laos 20 February that China would help its downstream neighbours cope with the prolonged drought by releasing more water from its dams, which may help Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia, but Vietnam lies 3000 km downstream, and positive impacts from distant upstream releases may have limited (and late) impacts.
The South China Morning Post reports Vietnam government estimates that drought and concurrent salinity will affect about 360,000 hectares of rice and 136,000 hectares of fruit tress; 120,000 households will experience water shortage.
To address the issue in five of the worst-hit provinces, the government is releasing about $15 Million USD for well drilling and installation of public water taps. In addition water trucks will be deployed to remote locations and coastal areas with the target of reaching about 40,000 people. There is a further plan to reinforce freshwater reservoirs and dams to build reserves required to combat salt intrusion.