Vietnamese government’s tough decision on natural disaster relief

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Another typhoon rips across Vietnam, leaving death and destruction in its wake. What measures are the government taking to prevent future loss of life?

By Oliver Ward

Flooding caused by Typhoon Damrey ripped across the central provinces of Vietnam. Landslides and widespread flooding killed 89 people and left 18 missing across the region. It also caused extensive damage to 34,000 homes.

The country is no stranger to tropical storms and natural disasters.  Why is the Vietnamese government not better prepared to mitigate the loss of life and property destruction?

There have been 12 major storms this year alone

Sources: ABC, Al Jazeera, Floodlist, Indian Express

In the last two decades, natural disasters have claimed over 13,000 lives and caused US$6.4 billion worth of damage across Vietnam. Between 1% and 1.5% of GDP is lost annually to natural disasters, with the agriculture industry the worst affected.

Since July alone, Vietnam has suffered more than 182 fatalities from flooding and landslides caused by heavy rain. In some incidents, more than 100,000 people evacuated their homes to prevent fatalities. Why is there still such astronomical loss of life?

Forecasting capabilities are limited

The issue lies in the country’s forecasting capabilities. With limited forecasting capabilities, evacuations take place too late. Tourists staying in Hoi An reported hearing evacuation warnings just 15 minutes before Typhoon Damrey hit. In October 2017, mudslides and flooding killed 18 people in Hoa Binh province. The government had not given any evacuation orders or weather warnings.

With improved forecasting capabilities, the government would have more warning of an impending typhoon or large storm. This would give them more time to orchestrate evacuations and emergency relief efforts.

The government is taking steps to improve forecasting

The situation is reaching a crisis point. The World Bank in Vietnam estimates that climate change will cause more frequent and more intense natural disasters. It predicts that a major disaster in the future could cause losses of more than 4% of national GDP.

The Vietnamese government has begun working in conjunction with Deltares, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and consultants from the US and India to improve forecasting. The four-year project will provide early warning systems for extreme weather systems. But completion is still a long way off.

For the government, protecting the economic heart of the country is a priority

There are 36 proposed flood-prevention projects in Ho Chi Minh City awaiting funding. They require a total of US$438 million. The funds for the projects will come from auctioning off state-owned premises and in a governmental loan from the Danish government.

Source: Vietnam News

The measures will protect economic interests but have no impact fatalities

A glance at a map of Vietnam shows that the hardest hit areas for flooding fatalities are in the central and northern provinces. A US$438 million investment in flood-prevention strategies for Ho Chi Minh City will help protect the country’s economic hub but leave the rural provinces equally as vulnerable to severe weather.

The rest of the country will have to wait a further four years for the updated forecasting technologies to see any improvement in flood management and evacuation. We will witness the scenes we saw after Typhoon Damrey time and time again before then. Only the intensity and frequency of the storms will change. The Vietnamese government has made its decision.  They have prioritised the protection of economic interests over the protection of human life. In the meantime, the population must grit their teeth and bear it.