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The struggle to protect Mekong Delta’s forests

A prolonged period of scorching sun over the last several days is endangering the forests of the Mekong Delta. Locals, fearing the worst, are devoting all of their resources and strength to preventing catastrophic fires.

According to the Kien Giang provincial Forest Rangers’ Unit, 23,000 hectares, or 30 per cent of the total forest area in the province is at the risk. In the districts of Phu Quoc, U Minh Thuong, An Bien, An Minh, Hon Dat, Kien Luong and Giang Thanh, third and fourth level alarms have been rung .

On Phu Quoc island, 60 out of the 37,000 hectares of protected and special-use forests are considered to be at high risk. Another 3,500 hectares in the communes of Bai Thom, Cua Can, Ganh Dau and Ham Ninh are likely to burst into flame at any time.

According to Tran Hong Dao, Head of the U Minh Thuong District’s Forest Rangers’ Unit, the total area of forest land at high risk is growing daily. A third level alarm has been set for approximately 278 hectares of forests in the district.

Dao, pointing to the dry ground surface, said he’s actually worried about rain. “If some unseasonable rains come, they would clear up the alum on the vegetation layer. If so, the trees could easily catch fire once the sun shines again,” he said.

“A slighted butt  would be enough to cause a fire in a large area,” he added.

Le Van Hai, head of the Ca Mau provincial Forest Rangers’ Unit, complained that the 70,000 hectares of the forests in the locality have become dry, making them prone to fire.

“Approximately 10,000 hectares of cajuput forest in U Minh Ha now suffers the most, of which 6,000 hectares in the districts of U Minh, Thoi Binh and Tran Van Thoi are in very high danger,” he said.

Under the direction of the local agriculture department, 500 dams have been built in Ca Mau in order to help store water for the forests. However, the serious drought and strong winds both have both contributed to “blowing the water away”. Ca Mau’s people have been warned that the situation will get even more serious in coming days.

Standing at the peak of a 26 meter tower, Nguyen Tan Truyen from the U Minh Ha National Park pointed to the vast forest area ahead, displaying green cajuput leaves and red withered ferns.

“If a fire occurs, the cajuputs would turn into giant torches,” he said.

“U Minh Ha is a swamp peat forest. As the humidity of the earth has dropped below 50 per cent, the vegetation cover on the ground is also a big concern,” he added.

A stressful struggle

Nguyen Thanh Binh, Head of the Kien Giang provincial Forest Rangers’ Unit, said VND7 billion has spent on forest protection works. Binh receives reports from other agencies daily in order to respond in the event of an emergency.

Local authorities have requested 24/7 duty mechanisms  at key points and regular inspection tours of the forests. They have mobilized 5,000 locals, gathered into 200 teams, for the forest protection campaign.

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