February 13, 2012 - Tran Hoa Phuong, 35, college lecturer in Hanoi and mother of two young boys, still recalls her panic when she got up on the morning of October 31, 2008 and saw the ground overflowing with dirty water.
“We used all stuff we could think of - clothes, blankets, anything... to prevent the water from coming into our house but it didn’t help much,” Ms. Phuong said. “My husband and I couldn’t ride our motorbikes to work, my son couldn’t go to school. My neighbors and colleagues were all in the same situation.”
The continuous downpour for five straight days made it the worst flooding in Hanoi since 1984. Transportation came to a halt with flood water levels reaching up to one meter on the city streets. Twenty people were reported killed from the deluge, schools were closed for a few days and the cost of damages in the city exceeded 3 trillion VND (US$ 177 million). Residents were also susceptible to disease outbreaks such as cholera and dengue.
Ms. Phuong, who was expecting her second child when the calamity struck, was trapped in their house for three days together with her husband and 7-year old son until they ran out of food. Her husband had to walk to the nearby market to get some food, which sold ten times higher than regular prices since the rains ruined many crops in the north of Vietnam. But that was not what the expectant mother worried about the most.
“My due date was in a week but it could come at anytime,” Ms. Phuong said. “Since the transportation stopped operating, the only way to commute to the hospital was by boat. We didn’t own any boats since we lived in the capital city.”
Vietnam is highly exposed to multiple natural disasters, including floods
Ms. Phuong’s family was among the many who were caught unprepared for such a deadly flooding in Hanoi. The bad news is that urban flooding is a serious and growing development challenge for fast growing low and middle-income countries in East Asia, including Vietnam, according to a new World Bank guidebook released today.
Vietnam’s 2011-2020 Socio-Economic Strategy and accompanying 2011-2015 Socio-Economic Development Plan lays out a vision of rapid progress towards a modern industrial society characterized by rapid urbanization. The stresses of economic growth and rapid urbanization in conditions of climate variability are putting populations in urban areas at high risk to disasters.
It underscores an urgent need to build flood risk management into regular planning of cities and towns. In 2009, the Vietnamese Government started to implement a twelve-year national “Community-Based Disaster Risk Management Program”, targeting about 6,000 vulnerable urban and rural communes.
Integrated approach to manage flood risks
The World Bank extended US$161 million for the Natural Disaster Risk Management Project which aims to strengthen early warning systems such as the modernization of the hydromet system as well as infrastructure used for disaster mitigation. It also makes investments in post-disaster reconstruction which was expanded through US$75 million in additional financing in 2010.
“Urban expansion often creates poorer neighborhoods which lack adequate infrastructure and services, making them more vulnerable to floods. The poor are hit hardest, especially women and children,” said Pamela Cox, World Bank Vice President, East Asia and Pacific Region. “But rapid urbanization also means we have the opportunity to do things right the first time, so cities and towns can support sustainable development, saving lives and money.”
According to the new guide book titled “Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century”, the most effective way to manage flood risk is to take an integrated approach which combines both structural and non-structural measures.
As flood risk cannot be eliminated entirely, planning for a speedy recovery is also necessary, using reconstruction as an opportunity to build safer and stronger communities which have the capacity to withstand flooding better in the future.
“The rapid development of urban areas in Hanoi has clogged the city’s drainage system, which led to the 2008 flood,” Phuong says. “I hope the [Vietnamese] authorities would learn some lessons from that to develop better city planning to prevent similar floods in the future.”