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Nation faces looming water crisis (23/03/2011)
nation faces looming water crisis
Nation faces looming water crisis

     HA NOI — Viet Nam 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 Viet Nam to improve the efficiency of using water resources, saying the task was now "more urgent than ever".

     Thai said that contrary to popular belief, Viet Nam 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 per cent of the country's rainfall occurs during the rainy season, which last less than half a year.

     "Climate change has even made the situation worse by increasing the amount of rainfall by 15 per cent in rainy season and reducing it by 15 per cent 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 per cent of the country's energy.

     Dang Duy Hien, deputy director of MARD's Irrigation Department, said water demand for crops had increased as demand for food had risen.

     He said inefficient use of water by farmers had aggravated the problem.

     "We are wasting water. In developed countries, if agricultural land receives 100 cubic metres of water, farmers use between 80-90 per cent of it, whereas in Viet Nam, just 50-70 per cent is used," Hien said.

     Pham Binh Quyen, Sustainable Environment Development Institute director, said the country needs to manage its water resources more intelligently.

     Neefjes said the price of water was far too low and failed to effect the real value of this natural resource.

     "Compared to the rest of the world, water in Viet Nam is extremely cheap. If water companies lack the necessary financial resources, they will be unable to improve the situation. They will not be able to invest in new pipes to prevent water losses, or clean the water properly," he said.

     Thai said income from water in other countries usually made up 7-10 per cent of the gross domestic product, whereas in Viet Nam, it was only 1 per cent.

     Neefjes said the Government should find ways to encourage farmers and the public conserve water.

     The Law on Water Resources, which took effect in 1998, is being amended to conserve supplies.

     The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is taking steps to set minimum river water levels, Thai said.

     Regulations governing the management of reservoirs during the dry season are also being drafted to minimise the effects of drought.

     "Viet Nam is going in the right direction," Neefjes said.

     However, he said the Government should develop clean energy.

     He also said the public should be encouraged to produce their own energy, which could be sold to the national grid.

     "If I put solar panels on my house's roof in Ha Noi, I can only use it for myself. So whenever I'm not at home, my electricity will be wasted. If I produce my own electricity, it might be a bit more expensive, but that cost would be off set if I sold the surplus to the EVN," he said.

     Neefjes added that the water price should also be adjusted. He also said crops that required less water should also be grown.

    "Some crops need more water than others. Rice is desirable but it uses a lot of water," he said.


(Source: VNS)

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