Viet Nam

Viet Nam floods: Repeated disasters bring desolation to northern and central provinces

Marie-Françoise Borel

Six days of torrential rainfall between 30 October and 4 November have devastated a number of the northern and central provinces of Viet Nam. According to government figures, at least 85 people are dead and 600,000 people have been severely affected by the flooding. Some 180,000 houses have been destroyed, as well as more than 200,000 hectares of rice and vegetable fields. In addition, thousands of livestock have drowned.

The situation is particularly acute for people in northern regions which were hit by Cyclone Kammuri in August 2008 and by Cyclone Hagupit in September 2008. They were just starting to return to normality after flash floods and landslides caused heavy damage to homes and crops.

Access to clean water primordial

"Access to clean water is an absolutely primordial concern for us," emphasizes Amy Gaver, head of the International Federation's Asia Pacific disaster management unit, based in Kuala Lumpur. "Not only has the flooding polluted water sources, but in certain urban areas, slow drainage and the damage to sanitary facilities is increasing the concentration of pollution, not to mention the risks associated with floating rubbish. We have already received reports of acute diarrhoea and dengue fever in some areas, and the risk of water-borne disease is increasing every day."

In the capital city of Hanoi alone, some 78,000 families have been affected and many streets are still submerged under half a metre of water. Transportation of people and goods has been made extremely difficult and electricity has been cut in many regions. In northern provinces, the situation has been exacerbated by the breaching of dykes and mudslides.

Red Cross volunteers first on the scene

First on the scene to provide emergency help was the Red Cross of Viet Nam, working in close collaboration with the authorities. The National Society mobilized hundreds of volunteers to carry out search and rescue, evacuations and provide first aid. They are also distributing food, clothing, kitchen utensils, blankets, mosquito nets, water buckets and cash grants to the most destitute families. In mountainous provinces, such as Hoa Binh, the Red Cross has provided children with buoyant school backpacks to prevent drowning accidents as many children travel to school by boat. Other Red Cross branches are sending staff and volunteers to help people clean their homes.

Emergency appeal launched

The International Federation has launched an emergency appeal for 4.8 million Swiss francs (4 million US dollars/3.1 million euros) to support the Red Cross of Viet Nam emergency operation for nearly 300,000 people, or 70,000 households, over the next ten months. The funds will be used to finance the distribution of food, water filters and relief items, to rebuild or repair wells and sanitation services, and to provide psychosocial support to survivors. More than 30,000 of the most vulnerable families will also be provided with seeds, fertilizer and livestock to restore their livelihoods.

With weather forecasts predicting more rain, especially in central and southern provinces, the authorities have prioritized the strengthening of dykes to avoid more breaches and more flooding.