HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta, the country's main rice growing region, is experiencing the worst drought and saline intrusion in recent history that has affected more than half a million people, officials said Thursday.
The drought could result in the loss of up to 1 million tons of rice, but is not expected to affect Vietnam's status as the world's third largest exporter of grain, said Ma Quang Trung, a department director at the Agriculture Ministry.
Vietnam exports an average 7 million tons a year, behind Thailand and India. Thailand too has been hit hard by the drought.
The water shortage could drive many farmers into poverty, especially if there are no rains between now and the peak of the dry season in late April, Trung said.
He blamed the drought on the El Nino weather phenomenon and excessive construction of more than 10 hydropower dams on the upper stream of the river.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh told reporters that neighboring China has doubled the amount of water discharged from a dam to help alleviate the crisis.
Binh also said the ministry was working with China and other Mekong River countries toward sustainable use of the river's resources.
The level of inland saline intrusion was unprecedented, resulting in damage to some 180,000 hectares (444,780 acres) of paddy fields, Trung said.
The government has provided some $1.5 million in aid to farmers in three most affected provinces in the delta, according to state media.