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December 21, 2009 – Original Source: VNN/Vietnam News

VietNamNet Bridge – About two billion cubic metres of water will be released from reservoirs to save winter-spring crops in northern regions from looming drought.

According to the plan agreed between the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Electricity of Viet Nam (EVN), the water, taken from three major reservoirs, Hoa Binh, Thac Ba and Tuyen Quang, will be released in three stages, beginning early next month.

The ministry also requires EVN to supply enough electricity during this dry season to avoid power shortages during the water pumping process to the fields.

The prolonged dry weather in the north is threatening farmers, who are watching the winter-spring crops wilting from lack of water – and the soil drying out.

Statistics from the ministry’s Irrigation Department showed that nearly 80,000ha out of the total 630,000ha of cultivated land will face serious drought and more than 5,700ha will be forced to switch to other crops which require less water.

Northern farmers, who are preparing to plant short-term vegetable crops, are facing a drought which is expected to be the worst in more than a century.

The north has seen almost no rain since September while unseasonably warm and bright days have resulted in an enormous increase in water evaporation.

Without rain, water levels in most of the northern rivers over the past three months have dropped far lower than their average levels of previous years.

The most obvious consequences of the looming drought can be seen on Hong (Red) River, the north’s principal water source for agriculture.

Instead of the green usually associated with the cultivated land on the island in the middle of the river, the land lies fallow. People who farm the island can only hope for rain.

"Usually around this time of year, we’re already ploughing and turning over the soil in preparation for the groundnut’s new season which is supposed to start in just over a week," said Nguyen Van Hai who farms the island. "I’ve never seen the Red River with such a low water level."

Earlier this month, the water in the Red River was just 1.36m deep after setting previous record lows for a consecutive five months earlier this year. Last month the river measured just 0.76m, the lowest level in 107 years, said Dang Ngoc Tinh, head of the Central Hydro-Meteorology Forecast Centre’s Forecast Department for the northern region.

To save their crops, farmers have to pump water into their farmland over a distance of nearly 1km but the solution is uneconomical.

"I’ve been paying VND50,000 (US$2.7) per hour for water pumped into my fields, once every two-three days," said Vinh, another farmer. "The soil however dries out so quickly that I can’t afford to continue doing it."

Many farmers are facing a worse problem since they lack pumps which cost around VND7 million ($378) each. But even the ones with pumps are frustrated at the seriousness of the drought.

"I have been pumping a lot of water to save my crops but it looks like it’ll be really hard for them to survive," said Dung who is the only one with a pump in the area, adding that he will in all likelihood lose his groundnut crop to the drought.

Other areas in the north are also drying out and becoming barren.

Most of the farming land in Ha Noi’s neighbouring Bac Ninh Province is also thirsty for water, which is a big threat to the winter crops.

Despite the provincial campaign of dredging the whole irrigation system of around 1 million cubic metres, the water shortage is particularly serious in highland and traditionally arid areas, said deputy head of the Bac Ninh Agriculture and Rural Development Department, Nguyen Van Chung.

The Department has ordered the closure of water drainage gates as well as pumping water from the Cau, Duong and Thai Binh rivers.

There are up to 37,000ha of winter-spring rice that are expected to be seriously short of water, while around 10,000ha of short-term winter vegetables need to be properly watered for harvest soon.

The El Nino climate system is forecast to last until next April and may cause serious drought in agricultural production this year.

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