Joint support to fight drought and saltwater threat

17:57 | 23/03/2020
International organisations and donors are supporting local people in the Mekong Delta strongly impacted by heavy droughts and saltwater intrusion.
joint support to fight drought and saltwater threat
Joint support to fight drought and saltwater threat

In the Mekong Delta, salt water is often going inland and then mixed with freshwater used for drinking and agriculture. Some areas facing these water shortages are also bracing for potential drought as the summer approaches. As a result, water shortages are rampant in the region, with 95,000 families left without fresh water.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working closely with the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority to provide support to the most marginalised families and children affected by heavy drought and saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta.

Quickly mobilising funds to provide water containers, UNICEF so far helped more than 1,100 vulnerable families, 92 schools, and 92 commune health centres – together around 5,000 people – and also distributed water filters, soap, and hand sanitisers to local people.

Furthermore, UNICEF also supports the government’s efforts to provide the community with information to better care for and protect children. Multimedia messages on water and sanitation, health and nutrition, education, child protection, and food security have reached more than 500,000 families in Ben Tre and Soc Trang provinces.

Meanwhile, learning from the extreme drought that affected large parts of Vietnam in 2015-2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, and Save the Children International in Vietnam have also jointly implemented a project entitled Drought Forecast-based Financing (FbF) for Food Security, Livelihoods and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Vietnam.

The project has helped communities effectively prepare for droughts by introducing FbF and Early Warning Early Action (EWEA) systems.

An FbF/EWEA mechanism aims to reduce human suffering and loss by acting in anticipation of an extreme event in the window of opportunity between the event’s forecast and its occurrence, rather than responding to it after it has occurred.

This project specifically pilots how an FbF/EWEA approach can be translated into the context of Vietnam and how it can be institutionalised into the country’s disaster management framework.

Key outputs of the project have included the identification of drought risks in the two pilot provinces of Ca Mau and Gia Lai, a drought forecasting index, a list of early actions for drought, and insight into possible financing mechanisms, all of which are indispensable building blocks in constructing an automated system for forecast-based early action to mitigate the impact of disasters.

Meanwhile, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is implementing a project to prevent saline water intrusion and ensure water distribution with an adequate salinity level by constructing water sluices and related facilities.

Implemented from 2017 to 2022, the loans valued at ¥24.250 billion ($218.47 million) are poured into Ben Tre – the province most affected by drought and saltwater.

This project provides saline water intrusion control facilities in Ben Tre where saline water intrusion is strongly damaging crops. It improves agricultural productivity by providing agricultural water with low salinity, thereby contributing to adaptation to climate change and an improvement in local resident livelihoods through rural and regional development.

Likewise, the European Union has decided to provide €60,000 ($66,600) in humanitarian aid for the Mekong Delta to help local residents cope with drought and saltwater intrusion. The aid is expected to benefit 24,000 people in provinces seriously hit.

The funding will be channelled to the Vietnam Red Cross Society to provide clean drinking water for locals and step up activities to improve sanitation and healthcare for families affected by the lack of clean water. Disease prevention campaigns will be implemented regularly to reduce risks of water source-related diseases.

The aid is part of the EU’s contribution to the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund under the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

In addition, the US is committed to working with Vietnam to address ongoing drought issues in the Mekong Delta, including through the US Agency for International Development which works with the Vietnam Red Cross Society to position water treatment units throughout the Mekong and develop drought early warning systems and emergency plans so communities are ready to respond.

The United States also works with Vietnam and other Mekong countries through the Lower Mekong Initiative, which hosted its second Mekong Research Symposium in Hanoi in December to examine new technical innovations and collaborations to better address environmental challenges.

The Mekong Delta region in southern Vietnam is the country’s prominent food production area, producing more than half of the country’s food.

At a national online conference summarising 10 years of implementation of the Politburo’s Conclusion 53 on the “National food security by 2020” project on March 18, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc emphasised that the agricultural sector has to fix annual food production and increase storage capacity of at least 35-38 million tonnes of rice, equivalent to 22 million tonnes of rice grains.

Meanwhile, the Mekong Delta accounts for 56 per cent of rice production and 90 per cent of rice exports. Besides these, the region’s seafood accounts for 70 per cent, 40 per cent, and 60 per cent respectively regarding the three criteria.

At the end of 2019, Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Chi Dung said that in the period of 2021- 2023, the Mekong Delta will have $1.05 billion to serve for development goals. This important source will be mobilised by the World Bank in Vietnam which will call for co-sponsorship from other international organisations in the form of loans to support development policies, in order to solve the region’s fundamental problems.

By Ngoc Van

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