Life on the edge
Vietnam is one of Asia’s most-disaster prone countries. Its long coastline in particular makes it vulnerable to typhoons and to impacts of climate change; a sea level rise of one meter would reduce the country’s land area by an estimated 10%. Climate change is already being felt in Vietnam in the form of a rise in average temperatures, lower annual precipitation levels, increased rainfall in autumn months and more frequent extreme weather events such as heat waves, cold spells and as many as 10 typhoons per year.
More than 68 million Vietnamese have been affected by a natural disaster at least once since 1953, with those in central Vietnam particularly vulnerable because their region shoulders 65% of the country’s storms, typhoons and floods. The majority of the population that depends on agriculture is hit especially hard by natural disasters.
Effective first response can prevent emergencies from turning into full-scale disasters. When natural emergencies strike in Vietnam, the first responders are usually residents of the affected communities. Vietnam has identified an urgent need to help communities develop and apply sustainable and realistic disaster mitigation and take actions that will reduce the natural risks to which they are both exposed and contribute.
In a partnership with the Vietnam Red Cross funded by the Swiss Re Foundation, the Swiss Red Cross aimed to help seven particularly exposed communities in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta province of Ca Mau reduce their vulnerability and increase their resilience to natural disasters. The project targeted families living below or only slightly above the poverty line and families whose dwellings faced an immediate threat from erosion.
Local authorities and residents were trained in the framework of a community-based disaster risk management process following governmental guidelines and methodologies developed by the Vietnam Red Cross. Danger zones and risk factors were mapped out and communities' current potential and capacities analysed. As part of this process, which also included 14 primary and secondary schools, disaster risk mitigation and emergency preparedness plans were developed and implemented.
Coordination and cooperation were fostered among the district and communal authorities, the government offices responsible for preparedness and emergency aid in the event of disasters and the Red Cross. The Swiss Red Cross bolstered the Vietnam Red Cross's capacity to provide emergency aid by strengthening the emergency response teams at province and district levels, training staff and volunteers and lining up basic emergency relief stock for local first response.
The project was designed as a pilot to enable both the Swiss Red Cross and the Vietnam Red Cross to gather experience that could become a basis for future project planning.