HAI DUONG PROVINCE,
VIET NAM –
In 60 years working the land, Phung Minh has been at the mercy of the
rains. They have nourished his crops but they have also destroyed them.
Viet Nam’s current drought, the worst in decades, has wreaked havoc on
farms. But when the skies open, the damage can also be severe.
“The water stays in the
field for weeks,” says Phung. “I’ve lost so many crops that way over the
But recent storms which
brought floods that previously would have destroyed his harvest did no
damage; the water was quickly drained away by a new pump station near
his farm in Hai Duong province, in Viet Nam’s Red River Delta. The pumps
have removed one of the challenges faced by Vietnamese farmers like Minh,
but others remain as weather patterns become increasingly unpredictable.
In the nearby Nghi Son
area, Nguyen Thi Tuan, 52, looks forward to the day that a new pump
station will help her manage confusing new weather threats to her
livelihood. Her groundnut, ginger, and corn crops usually thrive
mid-year. Now they are at the mercy of erratic weather. “This year
there’s been no water, but in past years there have been floods at this
time of year. We don’t understand why.”
The pump stations are
two of 10 being built or rehabilitated in three northern Vietnamese
provinces under the Strengthening Water Management and Irrigation
Systems Rehabilitation Project. The project, supported by a $100 million
loan from the Asian Development Bank, is part of Viet Nam’s effort to
manage rising agricultural and industrial demand for scarce water
resources. In addition to pumps and other infrastructure investments,
the government is enacting new water-related laws and policies, and
educating a new generation of water management experts.
Hit hard by El Nino
The country’s geography
puts it at a disadvantage; a long, flat coastline exposes it to flooding
and salt-water intrusion, especially in the fertile river deltas. As the
current severe water shortages show, there’s a high risk of drought as
well. Viet Nam’s plains rise quickly to highlands, which are susceptible
to erosion and leave little space for catchment areas to store water.
year there’s been no water, but in past years there have been floods at
this time of year. We don’t understand why.” -
Nguyen Thi Tuan
has been hit particularly hard by El Nino. Reservoir levels dropped by
two-thirds in 2015, with river water in the Central Regions 20% to 40%
lower than average at the end of the rainy season. River flows were down
40% in the Mekong Delta, allowing saltwater intrusion to occur earlier
than usual and much further upstream to areas untouched by salinity for
nearly a century.
the Mekong Delta floods every year at the end of October, but last year
there were no floods,” says Ho Le Phong, a specialist in natural
resources and agriculture at the Asian Development Bank’s Viet Nam
Resident Mission. “Now there’s a very severe drought going into its
weather patterns damaged 60,000 hectares of crops in Central and Central
Highland regions in 2015, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and
Rural Development, while 104,000 hectares of 2015-2016 winter-spring
crops were severely impacted in the Mekong Delta. Recently, the Asian
Development Bank approved $3 million in grant assistance from its Asia
Pacific Disaster Response Fund to support relief efforts in the wake of
the drought and salt water intrusion in the South Central, Central
Highlands and Mekong Delta regions.
Rising demand for scarce water stocks
is acutely exposed to climate change, which is projected to disrupt
rainfall patterns—shrinking river flows—and induce greater evaporation
from paddy fields. This affects the agriculture, industry, and energy
sectors, all of which rely on increasingly scarce water stocks. By 2020,
water use is expected to reach 120 billion cubic meters, up from 80
billion cubic meters in 2008.
local officials say the changes to water availability have compelled
some farmers to shift from planting rice to other crops that can be
grown faster than the usual cropping period of between 4 and 6 months.
In Hai Duong Province, for example, some farmers are moving into higher
value crops such as lychee and corn which are less water intensive.
strong focus the of government’s response is to improve water use
efficiency in drought-affected provinces through innovative water-saving
irrigation technologies and maintenance of existing infrastructure.
“Irrigation infrastructure has to be designed to a high standard,
particularly in the face of increased natural disasters, to get the best
return on investment,” says Sanath Ranawana, a natural resources
management specialist at ADB. “These systems should be designed and
built stronger and better to withstand extreme climate conditions.”
are also being helped by the government’s new Water Law, which was
enacted in 2014 and for the first time recognizes the economic value of
water. As Viet Nam improves its water management to more accurately
reflect that value, it will need many more water specialists to
implement new, more efficient systems.
Expanding water resources expertise
there aren’t enough trained people to do that work. At the only
institution in Viet Nam dedicated solely to training water specialists,
Ha Noi’s Water Resources University, 12,000 students squeeze into a
space meant for 6,000. “The demand is huge,” says Tran Viet On, vice
rector of the university.
also director of an ADB-supported program to build a second water
resources campus—part of the project that is also financing the
construction of the 10 pumping stations.
year half the students at Ha Noi will be transferred to the new campus,
now nearing completion at a sprawling site in Hung Yen Province,
adjoining Ha Noi. Eventually, 13,400 students will be able to study a
wide range of courses including mechanical engineering, urban planning,
and new disciplines such as disaster risk management.
will be many new subjects,” says Mr. Tran. “This will be a training
center for science and technology in the water sector.”
expertise these graduates will bring to bear on Viet Nam’s water
challenges may take a few years to make a difference. But already the
tide is turning in favor of farmers like Phung Min and Nguyen Thi Tuan,
as they enjoy the break from fickle weather provided by the new pump
helps us a lot during droughts and floods,” says Nguyen. “Life will be
better than before.”
14 February 2017