A. Situation analysis
Description of the disaster
The Mekong Delta has a total population of 19 million people, accounting for 21 per cent of the national population. The Mekong Delta is the largest center of agricultural, fishery and fruit production in Viet Nam. The region's rice production accounts for 50 per cent of the country, in which 90 per cent is for export. The region also produces more than 60 per cent of the country's seafood production. Fruit trees play an important role in the region and in Viet Nam in general. The GDP of the Mekong Delta as of June 2019 is 7.8 per cent.
The rainy season in 2019 in the Mekong was late in comparison to recent years and its duration was also short. Therefore, the total annual flow of Mekong river was lower than its annual average. The river flow to Viet Nam has rapidly decreased from the beginning of the last dry season and is now at a very low level compared to the annual average flow level of many years recorded from 1980 to the present.
Two key upstream factors that dominate water resources and saline intrusion in the dry season of 2019/2020 in the Mekong Delta are reserves in the Tonle Sap and the flow to Kratie (Mekong Delta). The flow of the Mekong Delta is seriously low, even lower than 2015 to 2016 (the year when the record drought and saline intrusion occurred). This is the main cause of the early, deep and prolonged drought and saline intrusion occurring, which affects people and production in the Mekong Delta.
According to data from the Central Steering Committee on Disaster Prevention and Control, ten out of 13 provinces including 74 out of 137 districts are affected by the drought and saline intrusion. More than 685,000 people in the Mekong Delta provinces were affected. Drought and saline intrusion have affected agricultural production, with estimated production losses of about 460,000ha and approximately 200,000 households lacking safe water for domestic uses. The conditions have resulted in a water shortage and significant damage to crops, threatening agricultural production, livelihoods, and access to safe water by local people. The situation has a high adverse impact, as these provinces are the country’s main rice growing regions.
Given the early onset of saline intrusion which is expected to intrude further inland and last for a longer time, agriculture production in some areas can be affected such as the winter to spring rice crop of 2019/2020, which is greatly affected by the irrigation water shortage, especially in coastal areas from January 2020 onwards. Summer to autumn rice crop of 2020 will also be seriously affected by saline intrusion if early rains does not come. As a result, (i) production costs increase due to the use of connection pumps (two to three levels) to take advantage of low water levels in on-farm canals to control the drought; (ii) in some areas where freshwater supply is unavailable, aquaculture production can be reduced or damaged due to high salinity levels (e.g. An Minh, An Bien in Kien Giang province, South National Highway 1A in Bac Lieu province, Thanh Phu, and Ba Tri in Ben Tre province); (iii) there is a possibility of freshwater shortage supply for people living in coastal areas, especially in estuary areas (e.g. Tan Phu Dong in Tien Giang province, Hoa Minh in Tra Vinh province, Cu Lao Dung in Soc Trang province, and coastal districts in Ben Tre province).
On 15-17 January, the Central Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control (CCNDPC), INGOs, Viet Nam Red Cross (VNRC) partners and the UN, conducted a joint multisector rapid assessment and published a joint assessment report. According to the initial findings from the joint assessment, the salt intrusion has started to cause negative impacts on the local population as the photo taken in Tra Vinh province above. There has been signs of freshwater shortages for domestic and production usages. With the coming dry season, this problem might be more significant within the region, especially with the poor households, who are suffering not only from water shortage but also from decrease of income as there has been decreasing needs for labour as a result of production interruption. The assessment also revealed that there might be risks of hygiene issues and water related diseases (especially with the poor, women and girls) as rainfall is expected to be low in the coming months. There might be a high risk of food insecurity and loss of income especially among poor and vulnerable households as the region is the country’s main producers of rice. The COVID-19 outbreak is putting an additional socio-economic pressure on vulnerable households already affected by drought and saltwater intrusion. Map of the affected provinces can be accessed here.
According to experts, the Mekong Delta region is facing abnormal weather attributed to climate change, tide changes in amplitude, propagation and discharge, subsidence resulting from over-extraction of groundwater, and upstream water retention. As of 17 March, Mekong River tidal stations of Tan Chau and Chau Doc reported water levels fluctuating in line with their long-term averages due to the tidal effect from the sea (Mekong River Commission).