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Typhoons and floods in Vietnam Measures for disaster reduction in


									Typhoons and floods in Vietnam:

Measures for disaster reduction in contexts of climate change                         James Lewis

Reports from Vietnam of typhoon Lekima which struck northern and central provinces on 3 October
2007 killing at least 77 people, are another reminder that Vietnam is a country most seriously affected
by typhoons and floods (Reuters: 2007).

Vietnam is one of ten countries having a larger share of population within the global low elevation
coastal zone (GLECZ), that is, within 100 kilometres of a coastline and at or below ten metres in
elevation (McGranahan, G et al: 2006) and, therefore, at high risk to typhoons and floods. Vietnam
and Bangladesh are the two continental countries having the largest percentages of their populations
living within the zone, that of Vietnam being the higher at 53 per cent. Of a national total of about 83
million (GSO: 2004), therefore, 44 million Vietnamese people live at risk to sea level rise and its
associated hazards, in heavily populated coastal lowlands and delta regions. Bangladesh is more
often the country named in reference to flooding and cyclones, the hazards associated with sea level
rise, but its percentage of population within the zone means that Vietnam is at greatest proportional

Vietnam forms the eastward extent of the Indochinese peninsular, its borders with China, Laos and
Cambodia totalling 3,000 km, “a very long border compared to the country’s surface area” (Vu Tu Lap:
1979) matched by its coastline to the east of 3,444 km (Index Mundi: 2007), a factor contributing to its
low elevation coastal region of considerable length and exposure to the South China / Eastern Sea.

Three monsoons, from north-east Asia, south Asia and south-west Asia, meet over Vietnam creating,
in their turn, cold winter drought, summer heat, heavy rains and marked differences in climate from
north to south of the country. Sea temperatures are similarly variable on a coastline that extends
between latitudes 21° and 9°N. “There have been typhoons in which the waves at Halong Bay (near
Hanoi) reached 30 metres, and foam even covered Long Chau lighthouse, 50 metres above sea
level.” (Vu Tu Lap: 1979 pp15, 89 & 94).

Further south, however: “It is on the shores of central Vietnam’s flat coastal alluvial plains that the
waves break highest and are most numerous.” Slowly flowing rivers and streams skirt their way round
constantly shifting sand dunes to find their way to the sea, trees having been planted in attempts to
restrain and fix the dunes, on a coastline repeatedly inset by estuaries, coves, backwaters and
lagoons of up to 70 kilometres in length. Principal road routes and railways thread their way between
undulating higher ground to the west and the sea to the east. Inflow of the sea is tempered by a
system of dykes, dams and lakes, to regularise the flow of sea water and to counteract stagnation in
the dry season.

Centrally located on Vietnam’s “Green Corridor” and complex coastline, Thua Thien Hué province i has
an overall area of 5,009 square kilometres, a population of 1,136,200, an average population density

of 225 per sq km and direct exposure to the sea. Population has increased by12.25 per cent since
1995, only marginally less than Vietnam’s national population growth during the same period. The
province has eight rural districts , in addition to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of Hué City
on the Huong (perfume) River (VNAT: 2007).

The northern and southern regions of Vietnam extend further inland, have larger areas of fertile and
accessible land, and concentrations of population around the capital Ho Chi Minh City on the Mekong
delta in the south, and the principal city and regional capital of Hanoi in the north. Although population
is less in number, population density is similar to most rural provinces and higher than that of some
(GSO: 2004). Central Vietnam is only 50-100 km wide with a 500 km (approx) length of coast
exposed to the sea, a disproportionately high land to coastline ratio.

For the whole of Vietnam and for a 26 year period, 1975-2001, 13,275 deaths are recorded from
typhoons, windstorms, floods and droughts (EM-DAT). During a closely similar 26 year period, 1980
to 2006, and in only three selected coastal provinces of Vietnam’s central region, almost 2000 people
have been killed by windstorms, typhoons and floods (see Table). Sixty percent of this total, and 84
percent of the number of people made homeless, have been caused by typhoons and windstorms.

In recent years, attention has turned to the disproportionate exposure and consequent losses in this
extended coastal region of Vietnam. Building on earlier Vietnam experience with the United Nations
Centre for Human Settlement (UNHabitat), Development Workshop France (DWF) has, since 1999,
promoted the preventive strengthening of existing houses in Central Vietnam (with initial support from
the Canadian International Development Agency / CIDA and, since 2003, from the European
Commission Directorate for Humanitarian Aid / ECHO). Preventive strengthening is based on rapid
training of artisans and community leaders in the application of ten key generic principles of typhoon
and flood resistant domestic design and construction (DWF: 2007). DWF also promotes awareness
raising events in schools and in public places using media ranging from theatre to boat races and
traditional community communication methods by television, to get across the message that
prevention is easy, cheap and durable. Although every house has different needs, the average cost of
strengthening is about 25% of the house value; access to credit and financial encouragement is part
of the package.

In 1999, community leaders viewed the idea of strengthening houses as laughable. In October 2006,
the hundreds of buildings that had been strengthened under the DWF programme withstood the
impact of Typhoon Xangsane that destroyed 20,000 other houses and unroofed 250,000 more in the
three central provinces. The provincial authorities issued an edict throughout the population, stating
that the DWF ten key principles had to be applied to houses and public buildings to avoid further
damage from future disasters. Community leaders and families alike are now convinced that investing
in prevention is cheaper than waiting for a storm to come and paying the high price of reconstruction
(Norton, John & Chantry, Guillaume: 2007).

This kind of programme is well justified as one small but significant measure against recurrent losses,
as are numerous other current post-disaster initiatives (eg: IFRC: 2001 & 2002). But deaths,
homelessness and economic losses are set to continue, and likely to increase overall, in current and
forthcoming contexts of climate change and rising sea levels. They will increase inexorably where
there has been comparatively little preventive strategy, which suggests that repetitive and costly post-
disaster assistance might not always be possible. A further 58,000 houses were damaged or
destroyed by typhoon Lekima with estimated damages of US$ 130 million (Reuters: 2007).

Typhoons and floods do not select, they are random in their incidence and impacts. Housing and its
occupants are not the only victims; workshops, docksides, fishing fleets, farms and agriculture all
need simultaneous protection. Instead of apparent series of piecemeal post-event responses, an
overall developmental concept could comprise multidisciplinary participation within a single framework
for the entire Vietnam low elevation coastal zone: reconstruction, construction and maintenance of
dykes for flood resistance, mangrove plantation and other vegetation for wave reduction (eg: Mazda,
Yoshihiro et al: 1997), cyclone shelters and killas for population and animal security, communications
systems for promulgation of warnings - and construction strengthening projects - would be a part of
the same development programme: “investing in prevention is cheaper than waiting for a storm to
come and paying the high price of reconstruction”.

Why is it then that such programmes are in such short supply (Lewis, James: 1999 & 2007) ? Climate
change and sea level rise were recognised during the 1980s and could have heralded then the need
for such action. But pre-disaster has never held the initiative nor the resources; post-disaster, after
people have been killed and dwellings destroyed, is more dramatic, attracts greater publicity - and
therefore more kudos and more money. It is also so much more cruel.

Eminently successful and praiseworthy projects, such as domestic construction strengthening in
central Vietnam, have demonstrated the success that professional quality and popular participation
can generate when given the opportunity. It is time for wider perspectives.


Vietnam central eastern coast
Recorded typhoons, windstorms and floods 1980-2006 (Source: EM-DAT)
Provinces of Binh Tri Thien, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Binh and Quang Tri iii

YEAR TYPE         NAME         # KILLED               # INJURED     # HOMELESS
                               Typhoon Flood        Typhoon Flood Typhoon Flood

1980    Flood                                94                                         628,000
1985    Typhoon Cecil    798                          257                 225,000
1989    Typhoon Brian    104                          762
1990    Typhoon Becky     19                          108
1991    Typhoon Fred      17                           16                 455,905
1991    Windstorm        251                          200
1992    Typhoon Angela    17                           12                     980
1992    Flood                                 1
1995    Flood                               253
1996    Flood                                60
1999    Flood                               127                    164                   45,265
2000    Typhoon Kaemi      17                           4
2001    Typhoon Lingling   20                          83                  13,100
2001    Typhoon Usagi       3                           3                  10,000
2004    Typhoon Muifa      56
2005    Flood                                 17
2006    Typhoon Xangsane 71                           525                  98,680

TOTALS                        1,373          552    1,970          164    803,665        673,265


CPV (2005) Seas and islands in Vietnam Communist Party of Vietnam On-line Newspaper
der_topic=280&id=BT2110558190 Access October 2007.

DWF (2007) Development Workshop: Vietnam risk_typhoons.htm Access October 2007.

EM-DAT: The OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database - - Université Catholique
de Louvain - Brussels – Belgium. Access October 2007.

GSO (2004) Average population by province General Statistics Office of Vietnam. Hanoi Access October 2007.

IFRC (2001) Post-flood recovery in Vietnam World Disasters Report Chapter 5 Geneva, International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

IFRC (2002) Mangrove planting saves lives and money in Vietnam World Disasters Report Focus on
Reducing Risk. Geneva. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Index Mundi (2007) Bangladesh coastline
and Vietnam coastline Access October 2007.

Lewis, James (2007) Climate and Disaster Reduction Tiempo Climate Newswatch Access October 2007.

Mazda, Yoshihiro et al (1997) Mangroves as a Coastal Protection from Waves in the Tong King Delta,
Vietnam Mangroves and Salt Marshes 1/ 127-135. Kluwer. Netherlands

McGranahan, Gordon; Balk, Deborah & Anderson, Bridget (2006) Low coastal zone settlements
Tiempo Issue 59. April. IIED University of East Anglia
See also: Access October 2007.

Norton, John & Chantry, Guillaume (2007) More to lose – reducing family vulnerability to floods and
storms in Central Vietnam Development Workshop France. Asian Disaster Reduction Center. March
Access October 2007.

Reuters AlertNet (2007) Vietnam floodwaters recede, but toll rises 8 October Access October 2007.

VNAT (accessed 2007) Thua Thiên Hué Province: Vietnam National Administration of Tourism Access October 2007.

Vu Tu Lap (1979) Vietnam: Geographical Data Foreign Languages Publishing House. Hanoi


        Provinces of Thua Thien Hué, Quang Binh and Quang Tri, have been formed from the division of Binh Tri Thien
        province, the name of which is superseded (DWF: 2007).

        The eight rural districts of Thua Thien Hué Province are: Phong Dien, Quang Dien, Huong Tra, Phu Vang, Huong
        Thuy, Phu Loc, Nam Dong and A Luoi (VNAT: 2007).

        Binh Tri Thien Province has been divided and superseded by the three new provinces of Thua Bien Hué, Quang
        Binh & Quang Tri. To be inclusive of the impacts of typhoons and floods during the period covered by this Table, all
        four province names are used so as to accommodate this relatively recent administrative change. All four names
        appear in the information source.


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