Viet Nam

Vietnam: Slow recovery from floods

HANOI, 7 November 2008 (IRIN) - Flood waters have begun to recede but parts of northern Vietnam, including neighbourhoods in Hanoi, remain under water after nearly a week of rains triggered some of the heaviest flooding in a generation.

"After two days of light or no rain, the situation in affected provinces is coming back to normality and there are no changes in damage caused by heavy rain and flooding since 30 October," the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Hanoi said in a statement.

According to Nguyen The Luong of the National Committee for Flood Control, as of 7 November, a total of 59 people had died and seven were still missing.

"We expect more rain but it will not be as heavy as what fell in previous days," Luong told IRIN. "Everything is now under control."

Despite the improved outlook, soldiers continue to work to reinforce dykes that are holding back several rivers, which still threaten to burst their banks.

In Hanoi, where two more bodies were recovered, officials said a total 22 people had died. Most either drowned or were electrocuted.

During the worst of the flooding, thousands of homes in the city were inundated with up to 1m of black water.

"When I stood in my house, the water came up past my waist," said Nguyen Bich Ngoc, a mother of two in Hanoi. "There were fish and snakes in the house. It was awful."

Fortunate residents were able to move out but others were forced to sleep on tables. Clean water and instant noodles had to be delivered by rescue forces when food shortages hit some areas. According to the Hanoi People's Committee, 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Despite drier weather, the Chuong My district in the capital remains largely submerged, with thousands of houses flooded. Villagers are using boats and makeshift rafts to reach their houses.

However, with the receding waters thousands of homes are filled with mud, rotting rubbish and sewage, raising the spectre of water-borne diseases. City health officials have warned about outbreaks of cholera and diarrhoea but UNICEF reported that no outbreaks have been detected.

Drainage investigation

The government inspectorate has ordered an investigation into Hanoi's US$500 million water-drainage project. The first phase of the project, which was completed in 2005, was designed to handle about 170mm of precipitation in a two-day period. Last week, more than 500mm of rain fell in just three days.

The city has just one pumping station, which itself was under water at one point. The station is scheduled to be upgraded in the next phase of the project.

The government is now tallying up the long-term damage to homes and livelihoods in rural areas. The National Committee for Flood Control estimates that 225,000 hectares of rice paddy and farms across northern Vietnam were damaged in the storm.

"While most of the focus is now on emergency and relief," UNICEF said, "We understand that flooding has principally affected crops and field yards, which may have a very negative mid- to long-term impact on most vulnerable groups."