The Heat Is Online

Vietnamese drought Aug. 1998

"Millions hit as Vietnam drought kills crops", Reuters, Aug. 8, 1998

HANOI (Aug. 8, 1998) Reuters -- A heatwave and drought hitting parts of central Vietnam have frazzled subsistence rice crops and dried up water supplies, an aid offical said on Wednesday.

Millions of people in six provinces stretching 400 km (250 miles) north from the central city of Hue were short of water, he said, adding that there had been a spread of diseases like malaria and dengue fever.

"We are trying to monitor the situation because it's a very exceptional situation with the weather at the moment and we know that a lot of crops have been destroyed," the official from the International Federation of Red Cross said by telephone from his office in Hue.

He added that many farmers had tried to plant beans to replace their dead rice crops but these too were dying.

"Really, some parts look like a desert, it is very serious," he said.

The rice crop was due to be harvested in September, and there could be serious food shortages towards the end of the year if alternative crops could not be grown, he added.

In Dong Ha, the capital of Quang Tri province with a population of around 65,000, local authorities said municipal water supplies could only be guaranteed for two more days.

A Dong Ha official told Reuters on Wednesday that the ability to pump water for crops had been lost and the priority was to maintain water supplies to hospitals and war invalids.

"If the water supply stops people will take water from the river and that will be a health hazard, but it could be happening within two days or a week," the Red Cross official said.

The afflicted provinces, with a combined population of 10.2 million, make only a minor contribution to key rice and coffee exports.

Officials in the southern Mekong Delta rice bowl and coffee provinces in the central highlands have reported adequate rain in recent weeks.

And there has been heavy flooding in some northern provinces.

A Reuters survey of three of the six central provinces showed more than 70,000 hectares (172,970 acres) of rice was in danger. Meteorologists said there might be no rain in the area for another 10 days.

Temperatures have hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) across the six provinces in the past month, official media reports have said.

A senior official from the Agriculture Department in Quang Tri province - which lies on the 17th Parallel that divided the country into North and South from 1954 until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 - said more than half the province's rice crop had been ruined.

Officials said the incidence of malaria, dengue fever and conjunctivitis was on the rise.

"There is an increase in disease, especially malaria and dengue fever... As the rivers dry up they leave pools and standing water, but there is no direct proof of a link," the Red Cross official said.

Mosquitoes, which spread both malaria and dengue, generally need stagnant water to breed.

Poor rainfall in Nghe An province since February had lowered water levels in some 660 lakes and dams, threatening rice crops, a local provincial official said, adding that some 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) of coffee, tea and rubber were threatened.

Crop damage in Quang Binh province, north of Quang Tri and south of Nghe An, was not as high as its neighbours but nearly 300,000 residents had suffered from water shortages, a local official told Reuters.

Communist Party General Secretary Le Kha Phieu toured the six central drought-stricken provinces last week.

"If there is death from hunger in any local area, the party leaders and local authorities will be sacked immediately," Phieu was quoted by local media on Monday as saying in Nghe An.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.

Also:

"Heat, Drought bring disease in Vietnam," Reuters News Service, Aug. 8, 1998.