Viet Nam

Resilient Shores : Vietnam’s Coastal Development Between Opportunity and Disaster Risk

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Executive Summary

In a country that is among the most exposed to natural hazards, Vietnam’s coastline often bears the brunt. Typhoons, storm surges, riverine flooding, coastal erosion, drought, or saline intrusion are all-too-familiar threats to most people living along the coast. Yet despite these risks, coastal regions host thriving economic sectors, providing livelihoods for a growing and rapidly urbanizing population. The coastal regions could be a powerful engine for Vietnam’s continued socioeconomic development, but rapid urbanization, economic growth, and climate change mean that disaster risks are bound to increase in the future.

Although the government of Vietnam has made impressive progress in reducing and managing natural risks, current trends show that the work is far from complete. To guide effective action, this report provides an in-depth and multisectoral analysis of natural risks in coastal Vietnam and reviews current efforts in risk management, proposing a concrete action plan to balance the risks and opportunities of coastal development. These actions, if taken decisively, are an opportunity to strengthen the resilience of coastal communities and hence the prosperity of coming generations.

Natural risks to coastal communities are substantial and increasing.

This report offers detailed estimates of the natural risks faced by people, towns, key economic sectors, infrastructure systems, and public services in Vietnam’s coastal zone. The overall picture is clear: the threats are significant and growing.

Around 11.8 million people in coastal provinces are exposed to the threat of intense flooding1 and over 35 percent of settlements are located on eroding coastlines. And on a coastline that is already crowded—more than one-third of it is built-up—development continues to concentrate along the coast, especially in high-risk areas. Flood risks in high-growth areas are twice as high as in low-growth areas. Key economic sectors that create the foundation for future development and prosperity are facing significant disaster risks. Each year, an average of $852 million—or 0.5 percent of national GDP— and 316,000 jobs are at risk from riverine2 and coastal flooding in the agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, and industry sectors.

Essential public services are also at risk: 26 percent of public hospitals and health care centers and 11 percent of schools are exposed to intense coastal flooding, compromising their ability to provide critical services when they are most needed. Flooding of facilities is not the only concern: every year, typhoons and floods cause about $144 million in direct damages to public transport infrastructure.3 Average annual damages to energy infrastructure amount to $330 million, not least because more than one-third of Vietnam’s transmission grid is located in forested areas, at risk of falling trees and branches during storms.3 When infrastructure is affected by disasters, it obstructs people’s access to jobs, education and health care, and damages the competitiveness of firms. The lack of reliable and resilient infrastructure disrupts firms’ operations, causing some $280 million in utilization rate losses each year.4 While the risks from flooding, drought, erosion, and saline intrusion are already substantial, climate change is expected to intensify these natural hazards. In a pessimistic scenario, mean sea levels are estimated to rise 30 centimeters by 2050 and 70 centimeters by 2100.5 This increases exposure of urban areas to intense flooding by 7 percent, exposing an additional 4.5 million people in coastal areas. Without action, human pressures on ecosystems—for instance, due to ground water extraction and sand mining—will exacerbate these risks.

Despite much progress, current risk management measures are falling short of needs.

The government has made impressive progress in managing disaster risks in recent decades, investing in structural and non-structural risk reduction measures and adopting extensive legal, regulatory and policy frameworks to guide coastal development in safe and sustainable ways.

However, these measures fall short of the country’s needs.

Hazard and socioeconomic risk information is fragmented and incomplete, often drawing from global databases and relying on a single scenario in plans and project designs. A lack of guidance, enforcement, capacity and funding have led to shortcomings in implementing risk-informed spatial planning, building codes and safety standards, and systematic maintenance of infrastructure systems. Two-thirds of Vietnam’s dike system, which stretches over 2,659 km, does not meet the prescribed safety standards; in many high-growth provinces, even the set standards leave substantial protection gaps.6 Nature-based systems have an often underappreciated role in boosting coastal resilience, and are under increasing pressure from development and over-exploitation. And although Vietnam has made tremendous progress in reducing losses from natural disasters, evolving and intensifying risks mean that the government must further improve its systems for disaster financing, relief, and response.

An action plan to balance the risks and opportunities of coastal development.

To ensure that Vietnam’s coastal regions can continue fulfilling their potential as engines of resilient socioeconomic growth and prosperity, the government must take urgent action. If the current trends of rapid economic development in high-risk areas continue, disaster losses are bound to increase unless such growth is resilient and risk-informed. Delaying action by 10 years could expose an additional $4.3 billion of economic growth to natural shocks.
This report presents a concrete action plan to strengthen resilience in coastal areas, outlining five areas of strategic interventions:

  1. Strengthening data and decisionmaking tools. To manage risk effectively, decision makers need up-to-date information. Establishing systematic, detailed hazard, risk and assets management information at national and subnational scales is essential for making evidence-based decisions on coastal area development and planning.

  2. Enforcing risk-informed planning. To ensure economic growth in coastal zones does not irreversibly lock in unsafe development, risk-informed zoning and spatial planning is vital and this should be based on the best available risk information.

  3. Strengthening the resilience of infrastructure systems and public services. To ensure that lifeline infrastructure systems can deliver their essential services, critical assets should be strengthened by integrating risk information into the planning, design, and maintenance stages of all infrastructure investments. Upgrades should start in the most exposed and under-protected areas and existing safety standards should be reviewed and updated.

  4. Taking advantage of nature-based solutions. To harness the protective function and economic contribution of ecosystems (including mangroves and sand dunes), a systematic approach to their rehabilitation, conservation, monitoring, and management is essential. Relevant policy, regulatory and legal frameworks must be strengthened and lessons from past initiatives consolidated to inform technical guidelines and future programs.

  5. Improve preparedness and response capacity. Disaster risk can never be fully eliminated. To manage residual risk and prepare Vietnam for more intense natural risks, the government must further strengthen its emergency response capacity. This includes upgrading the effectiveness of its early warning system, strengthening local response capacity, adapting social safety nets, and implementing a comprehensive risk financing strategy.

The government’s experience with disaster risks, and its proven long-term planning approaches, are important elements for implementing a resilient development strategy. Through decisive action, Vietnam has an opportunity to safeguard future prosperity and development in the face of climate change and disaster risks.

Download the full report on World Bank's website