Climate change. Global warming.
These have become household words now, because the world has learned over the past few years that these phenomena affect our daily lives. They show us that we can only ignore nature at our peril.
But sometimes, it seems as though Vietnam is yet to realize this.
Since last Thursday, the northeastern monsoon has caused whirlwinds off Vietnam's coast, sinking 23 ships and boats in the central and southern regions. Five people have died and another 51 people are reported missing.
These figures are not less than the damage caused by major natural disasters like typhoons or floods. But, for some reason the impacts of the monsoon did not evoke the attention and caution required.
In its forecast last Thursday, the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting said the monsoon would carry winds between the eighth and eleventh level on a 12-level Beaufort scale.
The next day, the center forecast that the winds would blow at up to the ninth level, stronger than those of a tropical low, and almost approaching that of a storm.
Despite such forecasts, concerned agencies did not release any formal advisories about the monsoon's impacts. In coastal provinces, no disaster response teams were readied as they are during typhoons or tropical lows.
On Saturday, the National Committee for Floods and Storms Control reported that dozens of boats had been wrecked, leaving more than 30 fishermen dead and missing, and the winds were still blowing strong. Even then, no major warnings or advisories were issued, for instance, asking fishermen to stay way from the seas and advising them to take shelter. And this despite regulations stipulating emergency notices and 24/7 response teams readied even in case of a tropical low with winds blowing at the sixth level and having a much smaller area of influence.
Perhaps monsoons with steady and familiar impacts in the past have made both fishermen and agencies apathetic.
But, this was not the first monsoon to cause critical damage. Last October, nine fishermen in the central province of Thanh Hoa went missing during the monsoon. In 2008, monsoons hit the northern region with 38 frosty days that left 52,000 heads of cattle dead and 100,000 hectares of crops damaged.
All natural phenomena need the full attention of government agencies and the general public, especially when climate is changing in unexpected ways.
Urgent warnings cannot mitigate the intensity of natural disasters, but they can warn people of the dangers ahead, and give them time to brace themselves, so that damages can be minimized as much as possible.
Editor's note: Although monsoon is most often referred to as a rainy season, it also refers to "a large-scale wind system that seasonally blows in opposite directions and determines the climate of large regions."