As more and more visitors come to enjoy Vietnam's long stretch of coastline, its vibrant cities and mountain vistas, the country's tourism industry is just one sector stimulating an ever growing economy. Vietnam is on the move to change from a low to a middle income country, bringing more and more people out of poverty each year. But one factor continues to pose a threat to reach this national goal: the 3200 km coastline that is such a draw for tourists also exposes at least 60 million Vietnamese to disasters that each year take lives, destroy homes, wipe out crops, livestock and small businesses, and cost hundreds of millions of Euros in damages.
While disasters impact people across the country, the ethnic minority people living on subsistence agriculture in the country's mountainous areas can least afford these losses. This population, whose poverty rate is 3 to 5 times the national average, is also increasingly at risk of deaths or injuries from landslides triggered by heavy rains falling on deforested mountain sides.
The project Building Community Resilience to Disasters in Upland Areas (BCRD), financed by the European Commission's Directorate General of Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection and implemented by ACTED and CECI , was one of the first projects in Vietnam to develop strategies for disaster preparedness that are adapted to the unique needs of ethnic minority people. "When we first started the project three years ago in Kon Tum Province disaster preparedness was not a priority for the local government or community members - disasters occurred but they were seen as isolated incidents or just bad luck" says Ms. Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc, ACTED/CECI's Program Officer, "But last year Typhoon Ketsana was the worse disaster people had ever seen. Now the local government wants us to extend the program to more areas."
Typhoon Ketsana struck mountainous Kon Tum Province in September 29 2009. The level of rainfall that usually falls in one month in the rainy season came down in a torrent over one day. Landslides killed 52 people, destroyed 2000 homes, and completely blocked the transportation system, isolating most of the villages without supplies or access to help. In the communes were ACTED/CECI had raised awareness about disaster preparedness, people already new how to react to help themselves and assist others. As Mr. Do Thanh Quoc, a local government officer collaborating on the project reported to ACTED/CECI's monitoring mission: "Families in high risk areas in BCRD target communes were ready to evacuate out of unsafe places. These villages had trained search and rescue teams that could rapidly organize evacuations and assistance to the elderly, disabled or people stuck in isolated places. That's why no one died in the BCRD target communes during Typhoon Ketsana."
Based on the demand from local government and communities, BCRD will more than double the coverage of the program in Kon Tum and is introducing the program to one other mountainous province. The project team is also working with provincial officials responsible for disaster preparedness to train them on how to put in place early warning systems and information campaigns that are suited to remote mountainous areas and to ethnic minority culture and languages. These approaches will also be shared at the national level to give examples of how to prepare for disasters in mountain areas that can be applied across the whole country. "When floods come we cannot get help from outside," says Ms. Duong Thi Lan, a resident in one of BCRD's target villages, "We have to rely on one another. With the training from the BCRD project we will learn how to be better prepared."