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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        2  March 2011

Vietnam faces water crisis

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Vietnam is suffering a severe shortage of water – not for the first time. But never before has the drought been as obvious as now. And it is not a localised problem, the whole country is affected.

Electricity of Viet nam (EVN) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development held intense discussions earlier this year on the release of water from hydroelectric reservoirs to irrigate crops in the north.

The EVN said that after 2.9 billion cubic metres of water was released for irrigation its three biggest reservoirs – Hoa Binh, Thac Ba and Tuyen Quang – were now close to empty, despite the fact that less reservoir water was used for irrigation than in previous years.

Water levels are alarmingly low in major rivers in the central region. Stretches of the Tra Khuc and Ve rivers in Quang Ngai Province are completely dry.

Meanwhile, in HCM City and the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta droughts have led to salt-water intrusion, which has damaged crops and given tap water a slightly salty taste.

The worsening water crisis has forced the government to scrap its ad hoc approach to the problem and come up with a long-term strategy.

The Law on Water Resources is being amended to conserve supplies, while the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is drafting regulations governing minimum water levels in rivers and discharges from reservoirs during the dry season.

Tran Hong Thai, deputy director of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environment, said a return to the historic droughts of last March might be felt again this year.

Koos Neefjes, the United Nations Development Programme's policy advisor on climate change, said the lack of water was now a "fact of life."

"The whole system has to understand that droughts will become more frequent and will only get worse," he said.

The UN expert called on Vietnam to improve the efficiency of using water resources, saying the task was now "more urgent than ever".

Thai said that contrary to popular belief, Vietnam did not have now abundant water resources, and supplies were not evenly distribute across the country.

Some parts of the country, such as the south-centre, have far less water than other regions. Meanwhile, about 75 percent of the country's rainfall occurs during the rainy season, which lasts less than half a year.

"Climate change has even made the situation worse by increasing the amount of rainfall by 15 percent in rainy season and reducing it by 15 percent during the dry season last year," Thai said.

The construction of hydro-power dams in upstream countries such as China has also affected Viet Nam's water resources, given the fact that up to 60 per cent of the country's water is sourced outside the country.

The so-called El Nino effect, erosion of river banks and the improper use of surface and underground water have all contributed to worsening water shortages, he said. At the same time, Neefjes said demand for water had increased.

The EVN is under pressure to boost power supplies by about 20 per cent annually. Hydro-power stations produce 35 percent of the country's energy.

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