Active response needed amid more frequent, severe climate-fuelled disasters

Tuesday, 2021-01-26 10:54:18
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Transferring food to support flood victims in Hai Phong commune, Hai Lang district, Quang Tri province. (Photo: NDO)
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NDO – Vietnam suffered significant destruction due to multiple natural disasters last year. Amid current complex climate change, it is important to have an active level of prevention against extreme and unusual disasters predicted in the new year.

Historical landmarks "rushed" by unusual disasters

2020 recorded many unusual and extreme natural disasters occurring in various regions across the country. There were 16 types of natural disasters, including 13 storms in the East Sea (South China Sea), along with 264 thunderstorms, tornadoes and heavy rains hitting 49 provinces and cities. The peak was the historic heavy rain from October 6 to 22 that caused great damage in the central region, especially in provinces from Ha Tinh to Thua Thien Hue. In addition, droughts, severe saltwater intrusion, riverbank and coastal erosion, and sea dike subsidence also occurred on a large scale in the Mekong Delta.

Director of the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting (NCHMF) Mai Van Khiem said that looking at developments in 2020, it is clear that natural disasters are becoming increasingly fierce, while also unusual and difficult to predict. From the first days of 2020, Vietnam was affected by strong cold waves and large-scale hail. Then, a record heat wave appeared in the summer, combined with strong storms and heavy rains, leading to largescale and prolonged floods, seriously affecting the lives of local people. From October 1 to 20, the central region from Ha Tinh to Quang Ngai was hit by largescale heavy rains, with total rainfall for the whole period up to 1,000-2,000 mm, even 2,000-3,000 mm in some places, 3-5 times higher than the average for the period, with many areas exceeding historical records, such as Khe Sanh at 2,451 mm (average only at 329 mm) and Hue at 2,370 mm (average 494 mm). Due to the heavy rains, floods appeared in local rivers from Ha Tinh to northern Binh Dinh and Kon Tum. In some places, flood peaks exceeded historic levels, often surpassing the highest water levels ever established.

According to the NCHMF, the natural disasters in 2020 were brought about by many unusual factors. At the beginning of the year, the weather was influenced by El Nino, but at the end of the year, it was in turn affected by La Nina. Therefore, the weather in various regions across the country had quite complicated developments. It was extremely hot right at the beginning of the year, while storms and heavy rains were pouring in at the end of the year. From October 5 to 20, heavy rains occurred almost every day in the central region with the rainfall of the first 20 days of October 100-200% higher than average, with Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue having recorded figures that exceeded 300-400% of the average.

Widespread damage to lives and property

Looking back over the past year, the terrible devastation of natural disasters can be seen clearly as the severity, extremes and irregularities of the weather became increasingly irregular. According to the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority (VDMA), from the beginning of 2020, natural disasters happened increasingly abnormally in many regions across the country, with 16 types of natural disasters having occurred, including 13 storms in the East Sea; 264 thunderstorms, tornadoes and heavy rains in 49 provinces and cities; and 118 floods, flash floods and landslides, of particular note the historic severe flooding from October 6 to 22 in the central region. As of December last year, natural disasters had left 288 people dead, 65 missing and 876 injured, while causing 3,424 houses to collapse, 333,050 damaged, roofs blown off, residents having to move urgently, and 509,793 others flooded. In addition, various natural disasters also damaged 196,887 ha of rice and crops, killed and swept away 51,923 cattle and 4.11 million poultry, and eroded and damaged thousands of km of embankments, canals, river banks, coastlines and roads. The estimated economic damage amounted to more than VND35.1 trillion.

Coastal erosion caused by Typhoon No. 13 (Vamco) in Gio Hai commune, Gio Linh district, Quang Tri province. (Photo: TRUNG KIEN)

General Director of the VDMA Tran Quang Hoai said that thunderstorms, cyclones and hail occurred at the beginning of 2020, while flash floods and landslides occurred regularly in northern mountainous provinces. Immediately after being hit by natural disasters, localities actively arranged local resources to support people to overcome the consequences, on which, Bac Kan province spent VND13.4 billion, Cao Bang VND6 billion, Lang Son VND460 million, Lai Chau VND7.5 billion, Yen Bai VND2-4 million to each local household, Dien Bien VND2.32 billion, and Son La VND639 million.

Expecting drought and saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta provinces would take place fiercely and on a large scale, right from the end of 2019, the Prime Minister and the relevant ministries, agencies and localities paid attention to responding early to the drought, so that damage could be minimised. The Prime Minister decided to allocate VND530 billion to eight Mekong Delta provinces to overcome drought and saltwater intrusion.

After the historic flooding in the central provinces last year, the whole political system from central to the local levels took drastic action to overcome the consequences, focusing on mobilising forces to search for missing people, treat the injured, visit and encourage victims’ families, support locals repairing damaged houses, clean the environment, prevent and fight epidemics and restore production and essential infrastructure projects.

Active prevention and response

In 2021, it is forecast that extreme weather will continue with the influence of La Nina. In the first months of 2021, there is still a possibility of a tropical cyclone appearing in the southern part of the East Sea and possibly affecting the South Central and Southern regions. In the 2020-2021 dry season, unseasonal rains are likely to appear in the Central Highlands and the South, while saline intrusion in the South will be sooner and more intense than average.

According to the VDMA, the objective cause of the continuous storms, extreme floods and landslides causing serious damage in many localities last year is due to the impact of climate change, making natural disasters become more frequent, extreme and unusual. Notably, in nearly October, there were five consecutive storms, of which, storm No. 9 (Molave) was the strongest for the past 20 years. Large-scale rains caused heavy floods in 16 rivers, four exceeding the highest water levels ever recorded. On the other hand, the mountainous terrain combined with fragmented land structure and prolonged heavy rains contributed to the historic floods and landslides seen last year.

Meanwhile, the limited awareness of both local authorities and people in some places, not regularly paid attention to natural disaster prevention and control, especially in remote and isolated areas, did not help. The construction of natural disaster prevention and control works, public infrastructure and people's houses have not yet ensured resilience to storms and floods. On the other hand, some locales have not integrated natural disaster prevention and control into their infrastructure development, while the information system and equipment for warning of flash floods and landslides is limited. In particular, the forces involved in natural disaster prevention and control, especially at the grassroots level, are still thin and lack skills and equipment.

To proactively reduce the damage caused by natural disasters, the relevant ministries, agencies and localities need to continue to seriously and synchronously implement the solutions set out in Directive No. 42-CT/TW of the Secretariat on strengthening Party leadership towards natural disaster response, with a focus on reviewing and assessing the impacts of natural disasters, especially storms, floods, flash floods and landslides, to integrate and adjust strategies and regulations and develop appropriate prevention and response scenarios combining multiple objectives, thereby issuing specific regulations and standards to build natural-disaster resilient infrastructure, including roads, offices and houses.

On the other hand, it is necessary to improve the quality of natural disaster forecasting, warning and monitoring to provide an effective response, while consolidating the professional organisation and apparatus for natural disaster management and increasing the availability of specialised equipment and building a natural disaster prevention and control database.

Priority should be given to the allocation of funds in the first phase of the medium-term public investment plan for the 2021-2025 period and the annual local and central budget reserve for natural disaster prevention and control, focusing on strengthening the planting and management of watershed and coastal protection forests, providing funding to housing programmes, as well as consolidating dikes, embankments, dams and shelters for ships, in addition to promoting the development and application of science and technology to natural disaster response suitable to each region and type of natural disaster, as well as applying real-time reasonable reservoir operation measures to ensure the safety of both these projects and downstream areas.

It is also important to strengthen communications and raise public awareness in order to reinforce the “on-the-spot" motto and promote the role and effectiveness of local forces in natural disaster prevention and combat in combination with professional armed forces, hence gradually reducing the damage caused by natural calamities to the minimum.