Tran Van Thu, a local in Chau Thanh District's Tien Long Commune, measured the salinity level in the Ba Lai and Ham Luong rivers last week.
Both are tributaries of the Tien River, a branch of the Mekong River in Vietnam, which runs through Ben Tre and feeds much of the delta province's fruit, vegetable and rice crops.
Tran Van Thu holds a tool that read the salinity level in a river in Chau Thanh District, Ben Tre Province at 0.34 ppt, March 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam
According to Thu, each of the two rivers that surround his 6,000-square-meter durian farm carried salinity levels of 0.34 (ppt).
This was devastating news as his durians need fresh water with salinity levels of less than 0.2 ppt.
“Every day, the river water only stays within the safe levels for about an hour, so I have to take every chance I can get [to get fresh water to the farm].”
Thu's family used to cultivate rambutan for a living, but after losing the entire farm to drought and salt intrusion in 2019, they switched to durian.
A month ago, Thu and other farmers in Tien Long Commune started to store freshwater, but they’ve only been able to save up enough reserves to last a couple of weeks.
Around one kilometer from Thu’s farm, Tran Minh Quang, 61, and his two children, climb their durian trees to remove smaller fruits almost every day.
Facing a shortage of fresh water, Quang said he cannot risk using what little he has on smaller bounty.
Tran Minh Quang removes unqualified durian fruits to save water for qualified ones. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam
Vietnam's southern region, which includes the entire Mekong Delta, is now at the peak of its dry season, and rains normally do not come until May.
During the 2020 dry season, the delta, home to 20 million people, was hit by the worst drought in recorded history, which caused record-breaking levels of salinity in its rivers.
By mid-March last year, seawater had intruded 50-110 km into major rivers, including all branches of the Mekong. That was two to eight kilometers more than in 2016 when the region suffered what was then the worst drought in a century.
In all, the lack of freshwater damaged 41,900 hectares of rice and 6,650 hectares of fruit orchards in the south last year, while 96,000 families in the region struggled to obtain water for their daily needs over the 2022 period.
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