Vieät Nam's battle to overcome the increasing threat of climate change
With global temperatures continuing to rise, Vieät Nam is struggling to adapt to the damage caused by rising sea levels, and as one of the countries most at risk from this growing threat, action needs to be taken now to mitigate its impacts.
For the past five years, Phuøng Vaên Ñaáu's family has had to resort to using farm water during the dry season, which would last about four months each year.
Before that, he could still use ground water for the family's daily needs. But when saline water seeped into the ground under Thöøa Ñöùc Commune in Bình Ñaïi District of the southern province of Beán Tre, that was no longer an option.
Ñaáu's family is not the only one in the commune that has suffered from a lack of fresh water every dry season.
Phaïm Thò Ly, another resident in the commune, has had to buy well water every 10 days from a seller in other commune, for her family's daily use. Because of the shortage, she said she would have to ration her water supplies.
Ly said she would always save water used to wash rice for cooking and reuse it to wash vegetables or dishes. She would also have to bath her kids herself.
"They would waste the water if I let them bath by themselves," she said.
Ly has resorted to buying bottled water so that her children can have clean drinking water. Each time, she has to pay with the money she earns from two days of fishing.
Traàn Thaùi Hoïc, an employee from the communal People's Committee, said since 2009, saline water had seeped into the commune and seriously contaminated the groundwater in the area.
Salt concentrations in the groundwater have been measured up to 3:1000, he said, with Ministry of Health guidelines stipulating salt concentration levels must be less than 0.3 per thousand to be safe for daily use.
About 100,000ha of farmland in the Cöûu Long (Mekong) Delta, the country's biggest rice granary, have been affected by saline water intrusion, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).
The Mekong Delta covers about 40,000sq.km of fertile plains and is home to more than 18 million people. Groundwater is amongst the most important sources of fresh water for millions of people, particularly those living in coastal areas.
Scientists say higher temperatures and rising sea levels, evidence of climate change, have triggered inundations and dangerous levels of salinity, which can wreak havoc on agriculture and the economy as a whole.
Nguyeãn Vaên Ñoâng, director of An Giang Province's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said saline water intrusion and drought in the delta had affected agricultural production, with saltwater concentration increasing to 0.9 per cent in several parts of the province.
Meanwhile, salt concentration in the southernmost province of Caø Mau reached 3 per cent. Rice crops would perish if the salt concentration in rice fields increased beyond that level, said Ñoâng.
In some areas in Soùc Traêng, Traø Vinh, Beán Tre, Tieàn Giang and Long An provinces, saline water has intruded up to 50-60km into local rivers.
Amid the thirst for fresh water, the victims poorly affected by rises in sea level are not particularly concerned if the well water they buy is clean - as long as it is usable.
"This will increase the risk of people getting diseases," said Dr Nguyeãn Quoác Thaùi, from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Baïch Mai Hospital in Haø Noäi.
Saline water intrusion is not the only problem that many Vietnamese people have to face as climate change takes it toll on the country.
In 2013 alone, natural calamities claimed the lives of 264 people, injured 800 and caused 25 trillion
ñoàng (US$1.2 billion) worth of damage. More than 12,000 houses collapsed and more than 300,000ha of rice and other crops were washed away.
The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Cao Ñöùc
"The weather tends to be more extreme with storms appearing sooner and stronger every year.”
Phaùt, who is also the head of the country's Steering Committee for Floods Prevention, said natural disasters were becoming increasingly unpredictable and more extreme.
In recent years, the number of tropical storms occuring over the East Sea had risen, while storms and tropical depressions had moved towards Vieät Nam's southern region. Scientists have noted that the number of severe storm was rising, while the storm season was ending later than in previous years.
Thirteen storms and four tropical depressions have stirred in the East Sea since 2013, nine of which have had direct impacts on Vieät Nam.
"The weather tends to be more extreme with storms appearing sooner and stronger every year. The intensity of the storms, measured by the wind speed, is believed to have increased by 211 per cent," said Nguyeãn Vaên Tueä, head of the Department of Meteorology and Climate Change under the Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MONRE).
In 2012, ten storms claimed the lives of 258 people, while damage measured 16 trillion ñoàng ($754 million). Statistics from the MONRE show that over the last 10 years, natural disasters have killed more than 9,500 people and caused damage equivalent to 1.5 per cent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to the National Strategy on Climate Change issued by Prime Minister Nguyeãn Taán Duõng in 2011, Vieät Nam was categorised as one of the countries most affected by climate change, with its Mekong Delta listed among the three deltas most vulnerable to rising sea levels (alongside the Nile Delta in Egypt and the Ganges Delta in Bangladesh and India).
Phaïm Anh Duõng, a resident of
"If the sea level rises 1m by 2100, 90 per cent of the Mekong Delta will be flooded. 70 per cent of its area will be intruded with saline water and 2 million hectares of rice will disappear."
"Agriculture will be the sector that is most affected by climate change, specifically by saline water intrusion and sea level rise," said Traàn Thuïc, director of the Vieät Nam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment.
Scientists have recommended adapting agriculture to climate the coastal Gaønh Haøo Township in Ñoâng Haûi District of Baïc Lieâu Province, said he knows little of the term "climate change", but is certain the weather is changing.
"In recent years, the weather has been so unpredictable. The sea level has come up so much that many neighbours of mine are really scared about the possibility of the sea dam breaking," he said.
"But even though we're quite scared, we can't go anywhere. Where can we go? We've been living here and earning our living from the sea forever," he said.
The report "Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world" by the United Nations Development Programme, estimates that about 22 million Vietnamese people will lose their houses to rising sea levels.
"If the sea level rises 1m by 2100, 90 per cent of the Mekong Delta will be flooded. 70 per cent of its area will be intruded with saline water and 2 million hectares of rice will disappear," said Leâ Anh Tuaán, a scientist from the Institute for Climate Change Studies at Caàn Thô University.
"Millions of people will become climate change refugees. Millions of people will fall into poverty, damages will rise to up to 10 per cent of the country's GDP. This would seriously affect the country's sustainable development," Tuaán added.
The UNDP report also estimates the sea level will rise by 33cm by 2050 and 1m by 2100. change must become a priority, he said, acknowledging that climate change would also pose impacts to all sectors of the economy.
Fully aware of the serious impacts climate change could have on the country's sustainable development, the Vietnamese Government has ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, while directing its agencies to build the legal foundation to prevent and mitigate natural disasters and cope with climate change.
To this end, much has been achieved. In December 2008, the National Goal Programme on Climate Change was approved. In 2011, Prime Minister Nguyeãn Taán Duõng issued the National Strategy on Climate Change. By April 2014, 61 out of 63 provinces and cities nationwide had developed their own action plans for coping with climate change.
"A common priority for a coastal country like Vieät Nam to cope with climate change is building sea dams to reduce saline water intrusion, ensuring water for farming domestic and fresh water for use, while also restructuring agricultural models to adapt to the situation," said Thuïc.
The Government's Support Programme to Respond to Climate Change (SPRCC), which started in 2009 with the co-operation of the MONRE and eight other ministries, spent 214 billion
ñoàng ($10 million) implementing adaptation models in 13 provinces in the Mekong Delta.
The Government has also implemented 17 other projects in these provinces to build new dams and structures to help them cope with saline water intrusion and rising sea levels.
A programme dedicated to scientific research to enable adaptation to climate change was also launched by the Government in 2011, with a total fund of 145 billion ñoàng ($6.8 million) for the 2011-2014 period.
However, some said the Government has not done enough to meet the challenges posed by climate change.
"The Mekong Delta might be the region most affected by climate change, but people living in the northern mountainous areas also suffer a lot from climate change. In fact, very few projects have been implemented in these areas to help local people adapt to climate change," said Hoà Ngoïc Sôn, PhD in Climate Change, from the Thaùi Nguyeân Agroforestry University.
Sôn is also working with a project run by the university's Agriculture and Forestry Research and Development Centre, to help local residents in northern mountainous provinces better deal with climate change.
From his years working with ethnic minority people, Sôn said the Government's climate change policies regarding these groups were not compatible with reality.
"Government's support for local residents is often not compatible with the local situation due to a lack of knowledge and information on local environmental factors," he said, suggesting that more research of local knowledge and customs needed to be factored into climate change adaptation policies.
Tröông Thò Trieàng, a resident of Taân An Village in Ba Tri
"I think countries like Vieät Nam need to focus on climate change adaptation measures that are based on local knowledge and specific conditions.”
District of Beán Tre Province, has had little luck with farm work, with all of her chickens dying of avian flu.
The goats she now raises, which she received through the Oxfam project "Building resilience to disaster&climate risks", are highly adaptive and less prone to diseases, she said.
"Raising goats is simple. They eat all kinds of vegetation, not only weeds or straw like other cattle. I let them eat in the fields and save a lot of money on feeding," she said, smiling.
If the price of goat remains stable at 90,000-100,000 ñoàng per kilo ($4.5-5/kg), Trieàng can enjoy stable earnings and not worry about slipping back into poverty.
In another model, new varieties of rice, have been provided to farmers in Giao Thuûy District in the northern province of Nam Ñònh.
Phan Thò Nhuaàn, a local resident, said in previous years, prolonged cold snaps and rain had killed 40 per cent of her winterspring crop. But with the new CT16 rice variety, she is expecting a better harvest this year.
Implemented by the Centre for Marine life Conservation and Community Development (MCD) and Oxfam, the project to provide farmers with CT16 rice and technical training started in November 2013 and will end this year. It is currently being rolled out in 11 coastal communes across Haûi Phoøng, Nam Ñònh and Thaùi Bình. The project aims to raise awareness of climate change, reduce natural disaster risks and improve the livelihoods of up to 21,000 coastal people.
"I think countries like Vieät Nam need to focus on climate change adaptation measures that are based on local knowledge and specific conditions. Although programmes that focus on building works to cope with climate change are necessary, programmes like these, in my opinion, are more effective with communities that have been impacted by climate change," said expert Sôn.
"Of course, local knowledge also needs to be incorporared with new scientific technologies," he added.
Climate change is a challenge for Vieät Nam, yet it can also be a motivation for development and for the transition towards environmentally-friendly technology, said director Thuïc.
But, whatever the Government is going to do to battle with climate change, the first and foremost wish of people like Ñaáu and Ly, is merely to have enough clean, fresh water for their family to use.
Seven houses in Xoùm Cuûi Village in HCM City were lost in a landslide, and other households in the area remain at risk.
A farmer in Thaïnh Phuù Commune in the southern province of Soùc Traêng Province waters his watermelons. The Mekong Delta has experienced harsh heat and drought this summer, which has severely affected local residents and agricultural production.
Sea defences in Khaùnh Tieàn Commune in the southern province of Caø Mau have been seriously damaged by high tides.