UNISDR Chief surveys risk reduction in Vietnam
By Hang Thi Thanh Pham
HO CHI MINH, 17 April 2012 - UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström, today visited parts of Vietnam's Mekong Delta which were affected by storm surges last October and are most vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change.
Margareta Wahlström, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, who is on the second day of her five-day visit to Vietnam yesterday, said: "Viet Nam has learned a lot from the many disasters that hit the country on annual basis. It is now important for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to be addressed in an integrated way, which is more effective given the limited capacity of provinces like Ben Tre."
The Climate Change Research Institute at Can Tho University in Vietnam which is studying the possible consequence of climate change has predicted that, despite drought brought on by seasonal decreases in rainfall, many provinces in the low-lying coastal region that is the Mekong Delta will be flooded by 2030.
The most serious cases are predicted to be Ben Tre and Long An, of which 51 percent and 49 percent, respectively, are expected to be flooded if sea levels rise by one metre.
Provincial government and farmers in Ben Tre are seeking solutions for the increasing salt intrusion and lack of fresh water as unusual patterns of dry and rainy seasons are being observed while the threat of sea level rise increases. With a population of 1.3 million, Ben Tre has almost tripled its GDP over the last couple of decades, mainly through a six-fold increase in the exports of agricultural and aqua-cultural products. Yet, 33% of the people still have no access to clean water with the majority being the poor in coastal areas.
"We have been trying to construct infrastructure to help improve fresh water supply but these measures are costly", said Tran Anh Tuan, Vice Chairman of Ben Tre Provincial People's Committee and Chair of the Provincial Committee for Flood and Storm Control.
"We need other solutions such as a switch to less water consuming crops. Mangrove forestry is crucial for us to protect people living along our 65 km coast line from storms and the threat of sea level rise", added Mr. Tuan.
"I am pleased to see research and capacity development geared towards helping people reduces disaster and climate risks. Initiatives such as Oxfam's to help farmers use new seeds to plant more water-efficient water melons, or support from the World Wildlife Fund for mangrove seedlings to help Ben Tre achieve its target of 4,900 hectares of mangrove forestry by 2020 are commendable", said Ms. Wahlström
A woman in Thua Duc commune of Ben Tre Province who participated in the Oxfam project and earned more money from her water melon crop by trying new seeds and water efficient technology, told Wahlström that she can now use the money for her children's education.
Yesterday, Ms. Wahlström visited Ho Chi Minh City where she praised the government for the measures it has taken to protect people and homes from annual flooding and to improve public awareness of flood risk.
With the majority of urbanized land only two to three metres above sea level and heavy rainfall, Ho Chi Minh City -- the economic hub of Viet Nam - suffers from annual flooding induced by fluctuating high tides.
"Ho Chi Minh City contributes thirty percent of the national GDP and it is this economic value that we should protect from disasters", said Mr. Le Minh Tri, Vice Chairman of Ho Chi Minh People's Committee.
"But it's not only about economic growth. We know that reducing flood and other disaster risk will ensure stable livelihood for people, prevent pollution and create a good environment to attract more investments", emphasized the Vice Chairman.
"We want to learn from other cities how they do this. This is why we joined [UNISDR's World Disaster Risk Reduction Campaign] Making Cities Resilient Campaign [My City is Getting Ready]", he said.
Both the Government of Viet Nam and Ho Chi Minh City's People's Committee are investing in flood control dykes and sluices which also serve as roads to connect once isolated and scattered flood-prone areas.
"We were flooded every year and could not walk through the area until this dyke was in place", said Mr. Tu, an old man, who has been living in the district for more than 40 years, while proudly showing visitors his house and beautiful garden, almost 1.5 meters below the dyke.
Tomorrow, Ms Wahlström will be in Hanoi for meetings with Government officials and disaster risk reduction partners where she will address the 6th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation.