Description and Details

Quang Nam is a most­ly rur­al region, with a total pop­u­la­tion of 1.4 mil­lion of which 80% live in rur­al areas. Viet­namese farm­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly those in the flood-prone region of Quang Nam, tend to be poor and vul­ner­a­ble to eco­nom­ic hard­ship. This is com­pound­ed by the fact that Viet­nam and the region of Quang Nam specif­i­cal­ly have a high flood risk, mean­ing that eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty becomes rather dif­fi­cult to accom­plish. While mea­sures can be tak­en to help com­mu­ni­ties recov­er after flood­ing, for exam­ple with flood insur­ance, these poor com­mu­ni­ties can often not afford the cost of such mea­sures. In this way, the cycle of pover­ty in Quang Nam can be devastating.

This is not to say that flood­ing is not a ben­e­fi­cial occur­rence — many farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties in this region rely on floods to fer­til­ize their land. How­ev­er, with a lack of com­mu­ni­ty plan­ning and resources, these floods can nev­er­the­less be incred­i­bly destructive.

Viet­nam is a devel­op­ing coun­try, and this fact means that eco­nom­ic hard­ships can become even more dif­fi­cult for com­mu­ni­ties to recov­er from than they would be in the devel­oped world. This also means that their abil­i­ty to respond to and mit­i­gate the dam­age caused by flood­ing can be lack­lus­ter. The cycle of pover­ty, then, can work on a much larg­er scale — the eco­nom­ic state of Viet­nam lim­its the country’s abil­i­ty to respond to flood­ing, and flood­ing in turn costs the coun­try — in the peri­od between 1990 and 2013, it is esti­mat­ed that that flood­ing cost the coun­try around 3.7 bil­lion U.S. dollars.

Flood risk man­age­ment, there­fore, is a tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment that could work won­ders in the region of Quang Nam, which is locat­ed in the trop­i­cal mon­soon and typhoon zone of South­east Asia. Flood risk man­age­ment works by map­ping out areas where flood­ing is the most like­ly, pro­duc­ing flood haz­ard assess­ment maps, which can then be used by a num­ber of peo­ple and orga­ni­za­tions to help mit­i­gate the effects of and dam­age caused by flood­ing. Despite the poten­tial ben­e­fits of flood risk man­age­ment in Quang Nam, it has only been imple­ment­ed on a lim­it­ed scale. This is because the major­i­ty of the usage of these tech­niques are in West­ern coun­tries, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Europe. As an exam­ple of the fail­ure to imple­ment this tech­nique, before the year 2009, flood dura­tion had not been con­sid­ered in address­ing the impact of flood­ing on the area. This is in direct con­tra­dic­tion to the fact that flood dura­tion has a direct cor­re­la­tion to the sever­i­ty of dam­age that ends up being caused by flooding.

Cur­rent­ly, the indi­vid­u­als with the most impact over flood man­age­ment in Quang Nam are the local gov­ern­men­tal com­mit­tees of Nat­ur­al Dis­as­ter Pre­ven­tion and Con­trol and Search and Res­cue, com­mit­tees that are locat­ed on the provin­cial and com­mune lev­els. Sev­er­al oth­er groups work on accu­mu­lat­ing data, such as Vietnam’s Insti­tute of Geog­ra­phy and Water Resources Plan­ning Insti­tute. How­ev­er, again, the work these orga­ni­za­tions have done to address flood­ing, while sub­stan­tial, is lack­ing in key areas; none of the stud­ies con­duct­ed by these orga­ni­za­tions about extreme flood­ing events in Quang Nam addressed the impact of these floods on agri­cul­ture. This is con­trary to the fact that Quang Nam is an extreme­ly rur­al, farm­ing-sub­sis­tence based area, and flood­ing can have dev­as­tat­ing effects on farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties due to destruc­tion of crops and livestock.

This is not to say that sub­stan­tial efforts have not been made both on a local and inter­na­tion­al scale to assist Quang Nam and Viet­nam as a whole in regards to flood­ing events, and legal mea­sures have been tak­en to assist in the mit­i­ga­tion of the destruc­tion of floods. This includes the 2020 Viet­namese gov­ern­men­tal act the Nation­al Strat­e­gy for Nat­ur­al Dis­as­ter Pre­ven­tion, Response and Mit­i­ga­tion. This act empha­sized a more com­mu­ni­ty-cen­tered approach to flood mitigation.

Some of the actions that have been tak­en to address the flood­ing, how­ev­er, are ones that have lit­tle to do with the rea­sons flood­ing occurs in the first place. For exam­ple, one of the major actions that the Viet­namese gov­ern­ment has tak­en is address­ing defor­esta­tion. While this is cer­tain­ly an impor­tant issue that needs to be addressed, the fact of the mat­ter is that there are a lim­it­ed num­ber of resources avail­able in the area, and efforts spent on for­est pro­tec­tion and refor­esta­tion take up these resources while not address­ing the actu­al caus­es of the wors­en­ing floods.

There is strong evi­dence, how­ev­er, that unsus­tain­able agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices and inap­pro­pri­ate devel­op­men­tal actions have result­ed in a sub­stan­tial increase in flood risk. Addi­tion­al­ly, while nat­ur­al resource man­age­ment can help to address and reduce the sever­i­ty of haz­ardous flood­ing events, water­shed and riv­er-basin man­age­ment are much more like­ly to be able to effec­tive­ly address these events. This mis­man­age­ment by author­i­ties, then, results in these floods con­tin­u­ing to worsen.

It is impor­tant to note that flood­ing has got­ten worse in recent years direct­ly due to the effects of cli­mate change. In fact, Viet­nam is ranked as one of the top five nations in the world worst affect­ed by cli­mate change. This increase has been going on for over twen­ty years now — remark­ably, the flood events in 1996, 1998, and 1999 all either set, or matched, pre­vi­ous records for water lev­els dur­ing these flood­ing events.

CEE sub­jects: Envi­ron­men­tal Engi­neer­ing, Geot­ech­ni­cal Engi­neer­ing, Hydraulics and Hydro­log­i­cal Engi­neer­ing, Earth Sys­tems, Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy and Sus­tain­able Infrastructure

Discussion Questions

  • Why would the Viet­namese gov­ern­ment have focused their atten­tion on refor­esta­tion instead of actions that are more like­ly to work?
  • If you were an engi­neer that was a part of a com­pa­ny tasked to help mit­i­gate the extreme flood­ing in Quang Nam, what would be your first steps? What fac­tors would you con­sid­er in your deci­sion mak­ing? Would any solu­tions include a more com­mu­ni­ty focused or hands on approach with pro­grams teach­ing locals how to mit­i­gate the floods or how to alert when flood­ing con­di­tions may arise?