by Dong Hua, Tao Jun
HO CHI MINH CITY, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Standing in a 1.2-hectare grape garden, his family's key source of income, Huynh Van Hai told Xinhua in a husky voice: "We have dug up to five wells, but found no water. We had to chop down the plants to use them as firewood."
Hai lives in the central province of Ninh Thuan, which has been hit by a worst drought in decades due to El Nino, and his last hope is the water supplied from China will save his prized grape crops.
At the request from Vietnamese farmers, China has increased the volume of water discharge from Jinghong hydropower station in its southwestern Yunnan province to the lower Mekong River in a bid to alleviate drought in Vietnam.
"For farmers in Vietnam's Mekong Delta region, being given one cubic meter of water now is much more precious than two tons of gold," one local Vietnamese news story said.
The current uncommon weather has brought drought and saltwater intrusion to a total of 13 cities and provinces, leaving 20 million people in the southern Mekong Delta to suffer, and the crops in the region to wither.
Before the arrival of the precious water, local farmers had to invest thousands of dollars into projects to gather water where they can.
Nguyen Huu Tri, another local grower, has poured 150 million Vietnamese dong (6,700 U.S. dollars) into digging four wells to water his 1.1-hectare vineyard, but only managed to save 10 percent of the crops.
"The wells have little water, even one has already become unusable because it has faced saltwater intrusion," the man with a weather-beaten face sighed.
Other central and southern provinces, especially those in the Mekong Delta, also have been seeing such hard time.
In Bien Bach Commune, Thoi Binh District of Ca Mau Province, a local woman named Nguyen Thi Ba told Xinhua: "People here often raise pigs to make money but the prolonged drought has stunted pigs and made them sick because drinking water is contaminated with salt and alum."
She showed her dull yellow nails of fingers and toes to prove the negative effect of the contaminated water.
"Many people here stink because they have to save water for drinking and feeding pigs rather than for bathing," said the middle-aged woman.
In Thua Duc Commune, Binh Dai District of Ben Tre Province, most of local residents raise oysters for a living and now are facing great challenges.
"We haven't seen such serious saltwater intrusion in years. Now, oysters are dying, so raisers are losing billions of Vietnamese dong," a native named Vo Linh Hue, 23, told Xinhua, noting that out of 10 tons of oysters her family has bred this year, 9 tons have died.
In the first five months of this year, the prolonged droughts and saltwater encroachment have made 288,300 households suffer water shortages, said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Collectively, the dual disasters damaged roughly 250,000 hectares of paddy rice, 19,000 hectares of vegetables, 30,500 hectares of fruit trees, nearly 150,000 hectares of industrial trees and 6,900 hectares of aquaculture ponds, causing losses of some 15.2 trillion dong (675.6 million dollars), the ministry added.
"I hope that regional countries, especially Mekong countries like Vietnam, China, Laos and Cambodia, will have closer cooperation to prevent them, or at least minimize their impacts," Le Thi Hanh, a senior woman from Hong Ngu District of Dong Thap Province, told Xinhua.
The Vietnamese authorities are also on the move to promote water preservation.
People must use water more economically and efficiently, especially with the help of advanced watering and filtering technologies, said Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Le Quoc Doanh.
The Vietnamese government has also decided to invest in upgrading and building dams, reservoirs, canals and pump stations, as well as perfecting its weather forecast systems. Enditem