After a first emergency phase and a second phase in which rice and household kits were distributed, the relief operation is now providing storm resistant houses to 4,500 families who lost their homes in the floods. Construction is scheduled to be completed by mid-May.
Record floods devastated the Central provinces of Vietnam in late 1999 - first in early November and then four weeks later in early December. In this double tragedy, 793 people lost their lives, 55,000 families were left homeless, while hundreds of thousands of others lost all their property and livestock. Bumper crop food reserves, built up in September/October, were swept away or spoiled. Over 60,000 hectares of fertile paddy were either washed away or rendered useless through sand inundation, and many farmers who had been able to plant rice following the first flood saw it washed away in the second round.
Nine provinces in all were flooded -- Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien Hue, Da Nang, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa. Thua Thien Hue and Quang Tri were the worst affected in the first round of flooding, and Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh and Quang Nam were hit badly in the second.
In eight of the nine worst affected provinces, the local authorities, supported by the provincial Red Cross Chapters and other organisations moved swiftly to rescue people stranded on rooftops, trees or small hills which had become "islands" of refuge. Emergency reserves in each province were emptied to provide food rations for much of the provinces' populations.
In the province of Thua Thien Hue, in the aftermath of the November floods, the devastation was such that even the local authorities and the Provincial Red Cross were flooded out and vital stores and equipment rendered useless.
The Central Government immediately mobilised the military who established an air bridge once the weather allowed flights to resume. The first flights to Hue from both Hanoi and Da Nang transported Vietnam Red Cross/International Federation supplies of food, emergency shelter materials, personnel and equipment. The general public responded by providing hundreds of metric tonnes of food and clothing to the two agencies designated by the Government of Vietnam for collecting assistance -- the Fatherland Front, and the Vietnam Red Cross. In the first days of the November floods much of this was transported by air, until rail and road links were resumed.
Within days, the government released a total of 41,000 tonnes of rice for general distribution to avoid what was to be a very lean six months of food shortage in these provinces.
By the time the December floods hit, this rescue and logistics system was working well.
Red Cross/Red Crescent action
The Vietnam Red Cross, supported by the Federation Delegation, established a management team at national level, plus one in Hue covering the more northern provinces and another in Da Nang covering the more southern provinces, to ensure the Provincial Chapters had support in the relief, rescue and needs assessments.
Three phases were designed by this response team:
- a first, "emergency phase" in which emergency shelter and food, rescue activities, and general assistance were immediately provided according to need;
- a second, more targeted distribution of food, clothing and household items to people identified by the local Red Cross as being among the most vulnerable;
- a third phase -- the reconstruction of housing for the poorest and most vulnerable among those who lost their houses.
In the first days of the floods in November, the Red Cross Chapters worked non-stop in rescue and relief actions. Boats were purchased with a cash grant from AUSAID, and many more were hired.
With VNRC reserve funds released to the provinces, together with funding from DREF (the Federation's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund) and cash donations from the Netherlands embassy, UNICEF, the US embassy, and CIDSE, the first phase of the VNRC's relief operation distributed emergency food, plastic sheeting (for shelter and collection of drinking water) and blankets.
Once the rail links were reopened, the backlog of goods in transit caused some bottlenecks. but on the initiative of the US Ambassador, supported again by senior Vietnam government officials, two US airforce C130s airlifted shelter materials, blankets and water containers to Hue province -- thus leapfrogging over the "traffic jams" and keeping the Red Cross pipeline open.
As part of this emergency response phase, each of the Provincial Chapters restored contact with stranded communities, providing rescue and relief, but also building up their assessment of needs. A large donation of mobile phones by the Ericsson to the VNRC made this work much easier, since land lines were flooded.
This first phase ended two weeks after the floods hit.
December Floods Hit
Just as the second phase of the November relief operation was getting underway, another wave of floods hit these same provinces, this time slightly further south, and in particular devastating the province of Quang Ngai.
Once again, emergency rescue efforts were undertaken by the authorities and the VNRC. Emergency funds were rapidly released by the VNRC using Federation appeal funds and donations made directly by the general public and local business. In total, during the first phase, over USD450,000 worth of relief assistance was distributed by the Vietnam Red Cross in both cash and kind. In addition, hundreds of tonnes of in kind assistance collected by VNRC Chapters all over the country, was distributed by the VNRC in the nine provinces.
The second phase of response to both floods was combined.
- A total of 4,000MT of rice was to be distributed in the nine provinces, targeted at the most vulnerable people; the quantity representing three months food reserves for the beneficiaries This was in addition to, and in co-ordination with, the assistance provided by the government and other sources;
- A total of 70,000 household kits, to replace the blankets, mosquito nets, cooking pots and cleaning materials lost by families in the floods, once again, were to be distributed, again targeting beneficiaries according to vulnerability, and in co-ordination with other goods distributed by some other agencies;
- Clothing sets collected by Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies in Australia, Malaysia and Hong Kong were also to be distributed.
The distribution of most of the rice was also completed in early February, with the exception of 600MT on board a ship unable to dock in Da Nang due to bad weather conditions. This distribution had to be completed in the week following Tet.
Rice provided by the World Food Programme (as part of this 4,000MT) through the Federation Appeal was distributed between late December and mid January. A further 200MT (within this 4,000MT) of rice was purchased locally and distributed by the VNRC provincial chapters in early December.
A further 10,000 household kits will be procured and distributed in late February.
When the second wave of floods hit, the planting season was almost at an end. This could have spelt disaster, causing severe food insecurity for six to nine months for millions in these provinces. Thanks to the intervention of the FAO and government reserves, many farmers were able to plant. FAO distributed its rice seed through the VNRC and local authorities working together.
It is normally forbidden to import used clothing into Vietnam, but following an intervention of the President of the Vietnam Red Cross in the National Assembly, this difficulty was resolved, and tonnes of used clothing provided by sister national Societies within the region were flown free of charge by Vietnam Airlines to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. From there they were transported to the flood affected provinces which have had the coldest December and January on record.
In the second phase a medical needs assessment was carried out by a team of public health specialists provided by the US government who worked under the umbrella of the Federation. Their report makes a number of recommendations, particularly concerning water, emergency preparedness of health facilities and rehabilitation efforts within the health system.
The procurement of 4,500 storm resistant houses was effected in early December, with distributions arranged in seven provinces. Delivery of the first 200 was completed in December and construction finalised in mid January. Delivery of the remaining 4,300 began immediately after Tet, and construction is scheduled to be completed by mid May. The logistics of such an operation is immense, with foundations to be prepared and built, contracts for the steel and cement to be completed at province level, labour teams to be trained from among the beneficiaries and Red Cross personnel - and sites assessed for potential dangers. The VNRC/Federation co-ordination team, led by the Federation Branch Development Delegate of the "E5" programme, is working closely with suppliers and the authorities. Based on the model of management developed in the 1998 flood programme, this seems to be working smoothly -- but with 500 houses arriving every ten days, it is a much more ambitious challenge than 1998.
This is the most extensive relief operation ever undertaken by the Vietnam Red Cross, and there have been many challenges. The management capacity of the VNRC in the emergency phase is perfectly adequate, but to sustain efforts in the long term the Society has identified the need to strengthen its disaster preparedness and relief management capacity at National Headquarters.
Capacities at Provincial Chapter level, particularly in the worst affected provinces in the Centre, have been boosted in recent years by a targeted branch development programme of the Federation (called E5, after the five National Societies from Europe which support it). In addition, the Disaster Preparedness training carried out by the VNRC HQ and Federation team with support from DIPECHO has also paid dividends. But one of the most effective training inputs has been the real life experience of disasters: in 18 months the Provincial Chapters have handled the drought of 1998, the floods of 1998, and floods in Binh Thuan in August 1999.
A team of monitors from VNRC HQ and from the International Federation, monitors distributions and deals with problems on the spot. In the worst case, in one small commune, some local officials "encouraged" the local Red Cross to give them the relief boxes. The local people complained to the VNRC and Federation monitors, and the officials had to return the goods. Later distributions of rice in the same commune went off very smoothly. The incident concerned 32 boxes, out of a total of 70,000 distributed.
Much still remains to be done to improve identification and targeting of the most vulnerable. This will take time and energy and means that the disaster preparedness programme of the Society, supported by the Federation, must work more effectively with the local Red Cross and local authorities to overcome these challenges well in advance of the next disaster.
Stronger disaster management and co-ordination at the national headquarters, already recognised by the Society as a weakness in the recent operations, will also need to be addressed before the next disaster.
External relations - Government/UN/NGOs/Media
The Government of Vietnam has facilitated the work of the International Federation and the Vietnam Red Cross throughout the operation, providing military aircraft and rail transport free of charge during the first phase of the operation. Bureaucratic obstacles have been swiftly overcome by the intervention of senior officials. The contribution of the VNRC has been recognised as a fundraiser alongside the Fatherland Front, but the greatest recognition has been for the effective performance in the field.
UN agency support has included a grant from UNDP for logistics, and an emergency relief grant from UNICEF, both of which facilitated the early days of the operation. UNDP co-ordinated the UN Disaster Management Team (of which the Federation is a member). This group met once a week in the first weeks of the operation.
A UNDP/World Bank/ADB/Federation assessment of the entire region took place in November. This led to a number of initiatives to reschedule loans to enable the rehabilitation of schools, clinics and infrastructure within the provinces. It also triggered an important initiative of the Netherlands Embassy and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development -- a study of the disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts in the affected region which is now under way, with Federation participation.
NGOs operational in the affected area worked in co-ordination with the Red Cross and the authorities. World Vision, MSF, Save the Children and CARE were all quick to respond. CECI has worked closely with the Federation Delegation on the housing programme as they wish to replicate it in the province of Thua Thien Hue. Other NGOs are following suit. A number of Vietnamese suppliers have copied the model of the storm resistant houses and are currently marketing these among NGOs and local authorities.
The Italian Ambassador sponsored a fundraising concert at the Hanoi Opera House which raised over USD14,000 in ticket sales. The Federation/VNRC mounted a photo exhibition in the Opera House to demonstrate the scale of the disaster. Many locally based NGOs joined in the general fundraising efforts, as did dozens of businesses, hotels, staff groups, and clubs throughout Vietnam as well as the overseas Vietnamese communities.
One of the most important supporters of the work of the Red Cross in Vietnam has been the media. With the support particularly of Reuters and AFP, AP and many of the Vietnamese national TV networks and newspapers, images of the floods in Vietnam were beamed across the world.
See Annex 1 for details.
Director, Asia and Pacific Department
Director, Operations Funding and Reporting Department