In 2016, the central and southern regions Vietnam experienced their worst drought and salt intrusion in 90 years, 18 provinces declared a state of emergency at the same time. One million people were left in dire need of food assistance as a result, and close to two million saw their livelihoods lost or badly affected. The area known as the Central Highlands - one of the poorest areas in Vietnam - was amongst the most affected regions. To address the situation, EU Humanitarian Aid has funded an emergency project which aims to alleviate the burdens of the most vulnerable families in some of the worst impacted communities.
“Last year we lost 60 per cent of our crop production,” says Dinh Van Tuong, a farmer and the eldest son-in-law of the Dinh Family from a village in the Central Highlands’ Gia Lai province. In normal times, the family of 11 was able to produce on average 100 bags of maize each year which was enough to easily feed the entire household. But after seeing their crops – their main source of livelihoods – hit by the dry spell last year, making ends meet became a challenge. “We couldn’t pay back the debt at the local store with our harvest. We were really out of options.”
With the aim to strengthen food security and to restore the livelihoods of people in the affected communities, the European Commission has worked in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and ActionAid (AAC) to distribute vouchers and unconditional cash transfers to impoverished households that are less likely to be able to cope with the adverse impacts of the devastating drought and saline intrusion, which decimates crops.
As part of the initiative, Dinh Van Tuong’s family received 2.2 million Vietnamese dong (VND), equivalent to approximately €87, to help them through the difficult period. “We spent the money on rice for the whole family and medicine for our mother-in-law who is ill,” says Dinh Van Tuong with a smile of relief on his face. “We are planning to buy salt or spices and save them for emergencies with the remaining VND200 000.”
Thanks to the EU-funded emergency response project, more than 3000 of the poorest and most indebted households in Gia Lai, as well as other Central Highlands provinces received unconditional cash transfers in two instalments during the lean season, which normally starts in November and ends in March.
Another 2400 households were provided with vouchers for farming materials worth VND 2.5 million (almost €100), enabling them to start their agricultural activities afresh for the new sowing season.
“Seeing a field of dead crops from drought is every farmer’s nightmare. Sadly, it was my reality,” says another farmer, Dinh Thi Cam, whose chilli farm was severely damaged from the drought and lack of agricultural water in Gia Lai. Her family received vouchers for farming materials, which have proved to be of great help in restoring their farming activities. “We are now fully equipped with farming seeds and materials for the next agricultural season without the need of getting additional loans from the local store,” she said.
The distribution of cash and agricultural vouchers to farmers has not only enabled drought-impacted families to restart their livelihoods, but also helped them avoid resorting to negative coping mechanisms such as contracting loans, selling assets or reducing the amount and portions of meals per day.
“Our assessment showed that food security and nutrition of the households that we have assisted has improved, and that the cash and voucher modality was adapted to their needs,” says FAO Viet Nam’s emergency operations coordinator Roberta Tranquilli. “What we need to do now is to ensure these communities increase their resilience to climate related disasters in the long term.”