City needs over $1 billion to hold back rains, tides

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Flooding caused by rising tides and heavy rains has gotten worse in Ho Chi Minh City; officials say they need more than US$1 billion to fix the problem.


Figures from the Southern Hydrometeorology Station showed the high water mark in the city has continued to rise since 2004. It reached 1.47 meters in 2006, then 1.49 meters in 2007, but 1.55 meters in 2008 and 1.56 in 2009.


On Saturday and Sunday high tide topped 1.55 meters, very near the record high.


Pham Viet Thang, Deputy Office chief of the HCMC Flood and Storm Prevention and Rescue Steering Center, said the tide at the upstream Saigon River in Binh Duong Province reached 1.36 meters on Monday, the highest since 1966.


The Southern Hydrometeorology Station said that tides have risen throughout the year.


HCMC will get a late start this month, constructing a system of 12 drains to control high tides at local waterways. The drains will work in coordiation with a 172 kilometer dyke that stretches from Cu Chi District to the city's border with Long An Province.


Nguyen Ngoc Cong, Standing Deputy Director of the HCMC Center to Coordinate the Flood Prevention Program, said the drains are expected to be completed in 2015. The drain is slated to be installed first along Nhieu Loc-Thi Nghe (the city's major canal) and the dyke is to be finished in 2016, costing around VND20 trillion in total.


"[Our center] will take responsible for flooding after this project," Cong said.


He said the city has spent around VND10 billion ($513,200) every year to maintain concrete dykes in canals located on the outskirts of town but they continue to break, regularly.


Cong said the city has the money to fund the project but lacks skilled irrigation and drainage engineers.


In the city's downtown, valves have been installed at the mouths of drains which automatically close when the tide gets too high.


The method has proved effective. Three hundred and ninteen valves have been installed since October 2008. In 2007, the downtown HCMC reported 92 flood spots during high tides but during Monday's high tides only 12 streets were flooded, he said.


But Cong said some valves in Districts 8 and Binh Thanh were installed when the high water mark was much lower than today. These drains no longer funciton properly, he said.


He also claimed that the rampant dumping into drainage ditches has blocked the valves. In addition, residential development has encroached onto certain ditch sites, blocking the valves from being installed.


Nguyen Ngoc Anh, the temporary head of the Southern Institute for Water Resources Planning, said that in order to tackle the problem, the city needs to set aside at least 17 percent of its total area for drainage ponds.

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