From dusk till dawn, roaming districts of Giong Trom and Ba Tri in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre, are dozens of tractors delivering freshwater to local households.

A man gets freshwater from a refill station in Ba Tri District. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Thi Thu Hien

Burdened with massive debts due to crops impacted by saline intrusion, people in the Mekong Delta are now also forced to spend money on freshwater to survive this year’s devastating drought.

“Have you shipped water to my house?” Bay, a farmer in Giong Trom District, called to ask a provider just to know that how long she would have to wait.

“Water ran out yesterday so I have not taken a shower yet,” Bay told the online newspaper Vietnamnet. “If they do not deliver freshwater this afternoon, I may have to carry a bucket to my neighbour, asking for water.”

People of Giong Trom District said their lives were turned upside down after the Tet (Lunar New Year) Holiday, as either tap water or spring water had high salinity, while no households stored freshwater in tanks for daily use.

Van, owner of a café in the district’s Binh Thanh Commune, said tap water had tasted salty for months.

“It costs me VND10,000 (43 US cents) a day to buy bottled water for brewing coffee and tea for sale,” she said.

“My son-in-law had workers from Tien Giang Province drill a well in search of freshwater, but failed. My husband attempted it, but could not find a good source of water,” she added.

Van is among “independent” residents as her family owns a tractor which her son drives daily to take freshwater from a well 3km away from her home for cleaning and showering.

“It costs VND150,000 (US$6.48) for a cubic metre of water delivered to your doorstep, while the expense for bringing water home on our own is only VND50,000 ($2.16),” said Van.

Sitting in the scorching sun while observing a canal in front of his house, Tu Hieu refrained from taking a dip as he would have to re-shower with freshwater.

“I may take a shower at the end of the day,” he said.

Thousands of people in Ben Tre Province have witnessed their lives slipping into the hands of water providers.

“The water shortage happens annually, yet it is more severe this year as saline intrusion happens a month earlier than normal,” said Hieu.

Each family spends from VND500,000 to 1.5 million ($21.6 to 64.8) monthly on fresh water.

“However, it is not always available,” said Lan in Binh Thanh Commune.

“Sometimes it takes two to three days for a tank of water to be delivered, as providers prioritise early orders,” she added.

Emerging job

While his neighbours lose sleep over water, Nguyen Van Tam is lucky enough to hit a source.

“Unable to afford the high cost of freshwater, I had workers drill a well, hoping to find drinkable water underground. Fortunately, the dream came true,” said Tam.

“Well water is for cleaning and showering, collected rainwater is for cooking. Last week, when my grandchildren from HCM City came to visit us, I let them use rainwater to shower so it ran out,” he said.

In front of Nguyen Thi Thuy Tien’s house in Tan Hoa Village, Binh Thanh Commune, there is always a crowd waiting to pump water.

A month ago, Tien had a well drilled. Her neighbours followed yet were unable to find any groundwater.

“It is God’s will,” said Tien. “Since then, people have come here to buy water for their families or for resale.”

Tien sells a cubic metre of water for VND20,000 ($86 US cents).

Pham Minh Trong, Tien’s customer, said tap water at home was too salty to use.

“Four family members use a cubic metre of water a day. We try to save as much as possible,” he said.

Driving a pickup truck along burnt paddy fields because of saline intrusion, Thanh Phong, a water trader, tries to finish all orders before twilight.

“I buy freshwater from a local well then provide it to people. It depends on the distance that I set prices for a tank of water. As most of people here are poor, prices cannot be too high,” said Phong.

As this year’s rainfall is predicted to drop, many local residents expressed the wish to have enough of water to survive the dry season. — VNS

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