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.

Outlook - - COVER STORY - By Traàn Thu Vaân

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.

Nat­u­ral dis­as­ters

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."

Adap­ta­tion ef­forts

"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.

Suc­cess­ful mod­els

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.

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