Viet Nam is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. The government's impressive achievements in pulling millions of people out of poverty are seriously jeopardised by the likely increase in extreme weather events such as severe rainfall and drought, and by slow climate changes like sea level rises and warming temperatures. Poor men and women are particularly at risk. A team of Oxfam researchers travelled to the two provinces of Ben Tre and Quang Tri in May 2008 to take a snapshot of how poor families are experiencing the changing climate, and how they might deal with this in the future. The main findings and recommendations of this report are:
- Poor men and women in Ben Tre and Quang Tri are already experiencing the consequences of the climate changing, and in many cases are ill-equipped to reduce, or adapt to, the consequences. They will be particularly vulnerable as the number of extreme weather events increases in intensity and/or frequency.
- In many villages women are hit the hardest by natural disasters. They often cannot swim, have fewer assets to turn to for alternative livelihoods when crops are destroyed, and have fewer employment opportunities away from the home.
- The perception of many villagers and local leaders is that the climate is already changing. In particular, they talk of the unpredictability of the weather and the intensity of weather events compared to previous years.
- The particular impacts of weather events vary from province to province, and from district to district. In the case of Ben Tre, the main problems were typhoons, unpredictable weather, and the threat of salt water intrusion from sea level rise and other factors. In Quang Tri, it was more a question of unpredictable and concentrated rainfall causing more flooding than usual or flooding at unusual times of the year.
- The example of low-income prawn farmers in Ben Tre shows the close link between sustainable livelihoods and people's capacity to cope with, and recover from, extreme weather events. Sudden reductions in income due to poor yields have led to more families becoming vulnerable.
- Disaster risk reduction saves lives and livelihoods. Villagers in Quang Tri have shown that getting involved in local level disaster risk management programmes can significantly reduce their vulnerability to frequent or heavy flooding. This is confirmed by Oxfam's wider experience in Viet Nam of working with communities to reduce their vulnerability to the impact of weather extremes.
- Adaptation works. Adaptation to climate change by poor communities is at an early stage, but there are positive examples of farmers already changing their crop cycles or planting different crops.
- Awareness of climate change and its causes varies significantly between districts, communities, villages and individual households. But in general awareness is restricted to a few experts, some local authorities and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
- Poor women's and men's needs and interests must be at the heart of national and local research and policy planning on adaptation. The social and economic impact of climate change on poor men and women should be at the forefront of any research and policy formulation. Any climate change planning needs to take into consideration livelihood resilience strategies, socially disaggregated vulnerability assessments and capacities for disaster risk management - all at the local level.
- Community-based planning is the starting point for scaling up provincial and national responses. One of the best ways of reducing the risk from climate change is to draw on people's own experience and perceptions at the commune and village level, and to use that as an integral ingredient of policy responses. Their local efforts at adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures should be strengthened, and where possible 'scaled up' to the provincial and national level. Women should be at the centre of community- level responses as they are already very effective in some communities at mobilising local involvement and implementation.
- Integrate climate planning across government departments. Climate change concerns should not be isolated under the remit of any single ministry but systematically integrated across all major development sectors.
- Integrate adaptation into national development planning. Climate change adaptation policies need to be integrated into longterm planning for sustainable development and poverty alleviation policies. In particular, climate change needs to be incorporated into the next round of provincial Socio-Economic Development Plans (SEDPs) (2011 - 2020). The 'mainstreaming' of adaptation measures requires a comprehensive and integrated assessment of vulnerability, and how to address this through risk management.
- More climate change-specific research is needed. There is a pressing need for a much greater knowledge base of the possibilities of salt-resistant, flood-resistant or droughtresistant crops, which should be developed with the active involvement of smallholders on their plots. In particular, national support needs to be increased for the transition to alternative crops and provision of local climate forecast information to farmers to assist with farm planning efforts.
- Awareness and capacity building should be stepped up. There is an urgent need to tep up public awareness campaigns and capacity building amongst key stakeholders and key leaders at district, commune and village level.
- The international community will have to play a major role in supporting the government of Viet Nam's efforts to adapt to climate change, because the amounts of investment needed are beyond its budgetary capacity. International adaptation finance will be needed to enable a wide range of measures, from community-led initiatives and disasterrisk reduction strategies to long-term national planning and social protection in the face of unavoidable impacts.