Vietnam — Park rangers have sounded a nationwide forest fire red alert as a drought has desiccated the Red River in the north and pulled saline water deep into the parched Mekong Delta.
Eight forest fires broke out over the Tet holidays, including one that destroyed more than 1,000 hectares at Hoang Lien Forest in Lao Cai and Lai Chau provinces, said Ha Cong Tuan, head of the Forest Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Forest fire alerts have been set to the highest level in many places where forest areas could easily be caught up in bushfires that would be extremely difficult to extinguish.
Tuan said seven provinces had increased the alert to level 5, the highest alert for forest fire threats, including Kien Giang, Ca Mau and An Giang in the Mekong Delta, and Kon Tum, Gia Lai and Lam Dong in the Central Highlands and Son La in the north.
He said the cause of the alert was El Ninos dry weather, which has pushed temperatures 2-3 degrees Celsius higher than usual. He also said a short rainy season with little perspiration and the early-arrival of the dry season this year had contributed to the problem.
More than 70 percent of forest fires in the past were caused by slash-and-burn farming. Meanwhile, children burning firewood for heat as they watch over grazing cattle in the forest has also been a major cause, he said.
Le Minh Hoang, director of U Minh Thuong National Park in Kien Giang Province, said his agency had also raised its fire alert as water levels in mangrove forest areas had dropped dramatically recently.
The nearby U Minh Ha National Park also reported more than 2,000 hectares of forest were at risk of fire and another 1,000 hectares would be added to this list by the next week as the drought has yet to reach its peak.
Out to dry
Water levels in the Hong (Red) River one of the major rivers in the north reached a measly 10 centimeters on February 21 and this low could reoccur next week, a senior meteorologist said.
Nguyen Lan Chau, vice director of the National Center for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting, said this was the lowest the river had fallen since authorities began keeping river water level records in 1902.
The Red River water level has never been this low. The previous record was 0.7 meters in 2009, she said.
She said the water level had increased to around one meter over the past few days after several upstream hydropower reservoirs discharged water for irrigation.
However, she warned that if the reservoirs dont release more water, a drought would keep the river humble until mid-March when the rainy season comes.
Dang Duy Hien of Vinh Phuc Province Irrigation Department said the province had taken the heaviest hit from the drought as nearly 7,000 hectares of rice fields now have no water for the new season.
On Wednesday, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat instructed provincial agriculture agencies to ensure enough water for agriculture irrigation by better management of water supply and pumping systems.
Although the drought is far from over, the Mekong Delta has already suffered the severe encroachment of saline water in several provinces.
Le Thi Xuan Lan of the Southern Meteorology Station said sea water had reached 30 kilometers inland in Ben Tre Province.
The salt grades in river water have also increased remarkably in Tra Vinh, Long An, Soc Trang, Kien Giang and Ca Mau provinces, she said.