An area with numerous rivers and canals running through it has been suffering a severe shortage of fresh water.
Drought and rising salinity levels have caused a permanent situation in Bien Bach Commune, Thoi Binh District, in the coastal province of Ca Mau in the Mekong Delta.
Fresh water for daily use and drinking is supplied by dealers who transport it in from about 10 kilometers outside the locality.
The severe water shortage has affected about half of the 1,800 households, consisting of with 9,000 residents. They live in hamlets 18 and Thanh Tung along the Trem River, whose water is so salty that it is undrinkable.
“Water there is salty. At night the water looks reddish as the result of alum poisoning,” said Pham Truong Son, deputy chairman of the commune’s People’s Committee. “We rely on boats carrying water from the neighboring province of Kien Giang.”
Water costs more than rice
A family of four spends on average VND25,000 (US$1.20) on fresh water every day, while the daily cost for rice is just VND15,000, said Mr. Tran Huu Thanh, from hamlet 18.
This is a considerable expense as water normally costs people in the Mekong Delta nothing, since it can be taken from rivers, even for drinking water.
The average price of 800 iters of water, or a jar, is VND50,000 – 60,000 and it is only enough to last a family for two days.
Some families transport water themselves, but the cost of daily labor and fuel is even higher than buying directly from water dealers in the region.
Thanks to this reality, the job of making jars in the area has flourished to meet the increasing demand for storing fresh water.
In some areas of Ca Mau, Kien Giang and Soc Trang, salt water has advanced deeply into rice fields that are located 30-40 kilometers from the sea, thanks to the current drought which has left the fresh water level lower than that of sea water.
The salt concentration in the Ganh Hao River in Ca Mau was measured at 2.8 percent three weeks ago, higher than the record level of 2.7 pecent from last year, although the peak of this year’s drought is expected to come in a couple of weeks.
Other provinces such as Tien Giang, Ben Tre, and Tra Vinh face similar trouble, though salt levels are lower. This has damaged to tens of thousands of hectares of rice and crops.
The disappearance of thousands of local cajuput forests has exacerbated the salt water invasion. Just in Long An Province, 3,600 hectares of cajuput forests disappeared last year.