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How Viet Nam is working with coastal communities to build climate resilience – with nature as a key partner



Late in October 2020, a tropical depression began to form in the Pacific Ocean east of Palau. Within 24 hours, it had intensified into a tropical storm – and then a dangerous typhoon.

After battering the Philippines with strong winds and heavy flooding, the storm, named Molave, gathered more strength. On the evening of October 28, fuelled by the very warm waters of the South China Sea, it made landfall in central Viet Nam.

The typhoon, one of the most powerful to hit the country in 20 years, pummelled the provinces of Quang Ngai, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, and Thua Thien-Hue with winds up to 145 km per hour, torrential rain, and meters-high storm surges.

Up to 1.5 million people were directly affected, with more than 370,000 displaced and 174 dead or missing. 

It was the fourth storm to hit that month.

A TURBOCHARGED CLIMATE

By virtue of its coastal and low-lying geography, Viet Nam is exposed to a range of natural hazards. Climate change, however, is making matters worse, driving more frequent extreme weather events like Molave.

The costs of such events are already high. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, Viet Nam ranked sixth among the top ten countries most affected in the 20-year period from 1999 to 2018. The direct and indirect losses are affecting not only the economy’s resilience and sustainability, but also its capacity to maintain rapid and inclusive growth. 

The outlook for the coasts is worrying. By the end of the century, the government forecasts a 57-73 cm rise in mean sea level, potentially inundating approximately 30,000 square km, or around 9.3 percent of the country’s land, and exacerbating the risk of damaging storm surges. 

Without effective adaptation, between 6 and 12 million people stand to be affected by coastal flooding by 2070–2100.

Coastal communities are not the only ones on the front lines. The low-lying Mekong Delta, home to more than 20 million people and the source of more than half of Viet Nam’s rice production, is threatened by rising sea levels, while the country’s mountainous north is facing increased risk of flash flooding and landslides.

Recognizing the challenges, the Government has integrated adaptation into its development strategy. 

Addressing the impacts of climate change along the coast has been a key concern. In 2016 a new project with the backing of the global Green Climate Fund launched, with the goal of improving the resilience of vulnerable communities in the provinces of Nam Dinh, Thanh Hoa, Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, and Ca Mau.

The project – led by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the involvement of the Ministry of Construction and the seven provincial People's Committees – has focused on three components: scaling-up flood- and storm-resilient housing, reinforcing mangrove storm surge buffer zones, and improving access to quality climate change risk information. 

With one year left to go, the project has been exceeding its goals, proving a success story in building enduring resilience to climate change.

BUILDING RESILIENCE FROM THE FOUNDATION UP

With priority given to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including ethnic minority households, the elderly, families of people with disabilities, and households in extremely remote or poor districts, the project has added storm- and flood-resilient design features to 4,000 new houses on safe sites, benefiting 20,000 people in disaster-prone communes to date, with a goal of building 5,000 houses in total by June 2023.

The houses feature a minimum 10-square meter mezzanine level at least 1.5 meters higher than the maximum flood level in the areas in which they are constructed. This feature allows residents to remain safe in their homes during a flood, as well as provides an area to store valuables and assets when waters rise. All project houses are solid, reinforced structures made with high-quality materials, starting with strong foundations. 

They have successfully withstood the test of multiple large-scale storms and floods, with no reported damage or loss of life during tropical storms Matmo (30 October 2019), Nakri (10 November 2019), or Molave (28 October 2020).

RESTORING VIET NAM’S GREEN SHIELD

In recent years, Viet Nam’s mangrove forests have been reduced significantly, from approximately 408,500 hectares in 1943 to 155,290 hectares in 2000, primarily due to population pressures and the expansion of poorly planned shrimp aquaculture. With mangrove forests providing a vital buffer against storms and saltwater intrusion, as well as acting as powerful carbon sinks, it is a significant loss.

Towards restoring Viet Nam’s green shield, the project has replanted or regenerated 4,003 hectares of mangrove forest, already meeting its 4,000 hectare target, and intends to plant an additional 149 hectares by 2023.

As well as acting as a wall against waves and storm surges, the rejuvenated mangroves have provided a boost to local livelihoods, with the project also supporting 4,358 people – almost half of them women – to take up more resilient livelihoods, including aquaculture, crop production, livestock (poultry and cattle), and beekeeping.   

Beneficiaries have reported strong returns.

 
 The breeds are big and easy to raise. After four months of farming, we can sell the prawns at a very high price, ranging from VND 8,000 (US$0.35) up to as much as VND 20,000 ($0.87) each.” – Phan Tien Ben, Nguyen Viet Khai commune, Phu Tan, Ca Mau

Previously we earned about VND 150 million ($6,500) a year from shrimp farming. However, under the support of the Ca Mau GCF project, revenues have increased to VND 200 million ($8,700).” -- Ngo Tuong Loi, Vien An Dong commune

“From the first two hives we received from the project, we’ve been able to grow the number of colonies up to ten so far.” Vu Tan Suu 

 

To track the scope and health of forests, the project has established a database and trained forest officers across the provinces on how to update and use it, as well as how to train others to do the same. The database will inform national forestry and disaster management planning and decision-making. 

BETTER PLANNING FOR A BETTER FUTURE

The third pillar of the project has focused on strengthening the use of disaster and climate risk information systems in decision-making. 

To this end, the project has invested in improving data collection, risk mapping, and information sharing, as well as local capacity-building.

Community-based climate and disaster risk mapping and planning has been undertaken in 383 communes across all seven project provinces. The resulting maps have been digitized to allow for future updates and the data entered into the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority’s national database.  

A review of the government’s disaster risk reduction and climate risk information system – hosted by the Disaster Management Authority – has been completed and recommendations provided for the development of a national monitoring system. 

The creation of a database covering the whole country will help inform development planning and preparedness activities. 

Meanwhile, the project has also invested in boosting the capacity of the provinces to integrate disaster and climate change risk into their own socio-economic development plans. 

EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES TO LEAD

Recognizing that communities bear the brunt of climate impacts, and that they are adept at identifying and managing risk, the project has placed an emphasis on equipping them with knowledge and skills to advance their own resilience.

Local authorities and communities have proved enthusiastic participants. More than 47,000 people have taken part in community-based disaster risk management (CBDRM) training. Through these courses, commune authorities and local people have collaborated to identify risks, analyze causes, and put forward solutions and action plans to strengthen their community’s disaster preparedness and response.

Across the project’s seven provinces, more than 1,000 commune officials – around one in three of them women – have taken part in Trainer of Trainer courses. More than 12,000 commune officials have participated in Training of Facilitators courses (including community-based disaster and climate change risk assessment), while more than 36,000 farmers have completed training in community-based disaster risk assessment (CBDRA). 

In total, 48,162 community members and local authority staff (almost half of them women) have taken part in training delivered under the project.

LOOKING AHEAD

With the backing of UNDP and the Green Climate Fund, the project has advanced an important shift in the way climate change risk is understood and managed in Viet Nam, while also delivering concrete and immediate benefits to families living in the most vulnerable coastal communes.

Building on the project’s successful models of resilient housing and nature-based solutions, UNDP is now working with relevant ministries and provinces to scale-up in other provinces and regions.

Reaching, and transforming, the lives of many more people.

 

UNDP Viet Nam