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Central Vietnam forecast to suffer severe El Nino drought

Monday, November 02, 2015, 11:29 GMT+7
Central Vietnam forecast to suffer severe El Nino drought
This photo shows coffee growers in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai digging a well in a desperate attempt to save their crops in 2015.

Delegates from several central and Central Highlands provinces have voiced their concerns about the potential effects of an El Nino-related drought at a seminar on the weekend.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Extended dry spells will take a heavy toll on residents’ production and daily life, attendees said at a workshop on Saturday to discuss measures to tackle drought in 2015-16 and the impacts of the El Nino phenomenon.

Speaking at the event, Luu Xuan Vinh, chair of the People’s Committee in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, said for the last 12 months the area has battled the most severe drought in the past 10 years.

From March to April this year, the water volume in 20 reservoirs in Ninh Thuan sat at only eight percent of their capacity, meaning a dire shortage of water for daily consumption and massive damage in terms of cattle and crops, Vinh said.

At its worst, the drought deprived nearly 25,158 residents of water for everyday activities, left 2,515 cattle dead from thirst and 2,079 hectares of crops damaged, he elaborated.     

Vinh added that the province has seen only occasional rain since September, with 17 reservoirs now storing less than 20 percent of their capacity.

If El Nino continues until June 2016, droughts would become even more serious, he warned.

Y Dham Enuol, vice chair of the People’s Committee in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, blamed drought on the province’s rapidly shrinking forest coverage.

A recent inspection revealed the coverage amounting to a mere 39 percent of the previous total, he added.

Enuol claimed that if forested areas in the province, which serve as the central and Central Highlands regions’ “lungs,” fail to be restored, the effects of drought could become catastrophic.

The 2014-15 winter-spring and summer-fall crops in Dak Lak lost nearly VND2 trillion (US$ 89.6 million) and VND171 billion ($7.7 million) respectively.

More worryingly, rainfall during this year’s rainy season has been lower than average, at just 60-80 percent of usual volume and scattered unevenly.

Among the 770 reservoirs across the province, only 250 have managed to store 60-80 percent of their capacity.

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A field in the south-central province of Binh Thuan cracks due to the scarcity of water during drought. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“There have yet to be feasible drought-combating measures for long-term industrial plants, as coffee and pepper farms are all located in areas with no reservoirs, while ground water levels have dropped constantly,” Enuol explained.

He noted that it would take an initial investment of VND70 million ($3,135) per hectare to adopt a trickle irrigation watering system, which residents cannot afford.

“Now that rainfall has declined, we sometimes look forward to storms as an additional source of water despite their often devastating power,” he added.

Addressing the Saturday workshop, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai acknowledged the El Nino phenomenon in Vietnam, confirming that the 2015-16 period is looking severe and also the longest over the past 60 years.

He urged that to effectively battle droughts, priority be placed on water for daily human and cattle consumption.

He advised that residents’ frugal use of water should also be encouraged, and households and businesses should store water.

The deputy prime minister also gave a direction that hydro-electric tanks use water sparingly from now on, in order to save the resource for drought-hit areas.

Vietnam has seen 14 scorching weather spells linked to El Nino in central, Central Highlands and southern provinces so far this year, according to Hoang Duc Cuong, director of the National Center for Hydro-Metrological Forecasting.

Temperatures in the affected areas have been 0.5 to 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the average over the past several years.

The country will be subject to fewer storms, but with higher intensity compared to previous years, as well as record-breaking weather spells in 2016.

Forecasts for later this year and early next year indicate that drought will come earlier than in past years, Cuong said.

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