Le Thi Chien says she used to be terribly frightened whenever a storm hit her village in the Mekong Delta Province of Ben Tre.
It used to be impossible for Chien to cover the submerged 1.5 kilometers that separate her from emergency shelters set up at a commune school and government office.
“I still remember the day, in 1997, that I had to put my five-year-old daughter into a stone jar to make sure she wouldn’t be swept away by a strong storm,” said the 55-year-old resident of Rieu Neighborhood, An Ngai A Hamlet, An Thanh Commune.
Chien's neighborhood, which takes its name from the nearby namesake river, is home to 300 people who are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
The only road that connects the neighborhood with the downtown commune is narrow dirt road that typically turns to mush due to rising river tides. The situation got worse during the April-to-October rainy season.
“If someone in our village needs emergency care during the rainy season, we have to place him in a hammock and carry him down the soggy road to the hospital,” said Chien. “Parents carry primary school students to school on their backs during that season.”
Things became much easier for Chien and her neighbors when a new elevated, concrete road opened in June after a two-month effort to replace the old one.
“I’m elated. Now, if storms come, we just call the commune people’s committee’s office. They come by in a xe lôi (pedicab) and take us to shelters in the downtown commune,” said Chien.
The Bo Rieu Road, 1.5 kilometers long and 2 meters wide, was built by the international anti-poverty group Oxfam and costed VND493 million (US$23,200)--VND400 million of which was provided by the New Zealand Aid Program.
The remaining funds were contributed by local residents.
Locals also contributed 3,000 square meters of land to help widen and raise the road and assisted in its construction.
Truong Thi Nu, 39, in the nearby hamlet of An Ngai B, doesn't fear storms quite as much as Chien.
But she has remained locked in poverty, as her five-member family, including two children and her mother-in-law, mainly depend on the VND100,000 ($4.7) a day her husband earns as a hired hand.
New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Haike Manning visits Truong Thi Nu's family on October 1, 2014. Photo: Thao Vi
After Oxfam gave her a female goat in February, Nu became hopeful that her family’s financial situation would improve.
The goat can deliver litters of 1-3 kids every 9 months.
“When my goat gave a birth to two kids, one male and one female, in August, I was very happy,” said Nu. “Every day, I cut grass from the surrounding fields to feed the three goats. I may sell the male for meat at around VND2 million ($94) in the next four months when he’s mature.”
Nu does not need to keep the male goat for breeding with her female goats as she can bring them to a mating center near her house which charges VND100,000 per breeding session.
“I learned how to take care of goats from Oxfam's staff. They also advised me to keep goats in cages instead of free ranging them. This will help make them less susceptible to disease and prevents them from creating environmental pollution,” said Nu.
“In addition, I can compost their droppings to help raise my ginger plants,” she said.
The road improvements and animal husbandry effort were completed as part of the $4 million project titled “Building resilience to disaster and climate risks of men and women in Ben Tre Province” implemented by Oxfam during the 2012-2017 period with funding from New Zealand Aid.
Ben Tre is a poor province in the Mekong Delta – a low-lying area in southern Vietnam. The province faces serious climatic stresses, including sea level rises, saline water intrusion, flooding, typhoon, and drought.
“Going to Ben Tre, going to the commune, visiting the families, and talking to them, you can already begin to see the positive impact [of the project] on people’s lives,” New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Haike Manning told Thanh Nien News during his recent visit.
“The goats hopefully raise incomes, the road alone provides so many different functions and services for the community. But the project is about much more than that. The project is about changing the way which people think about disaster risk and climate change,” he said.
“This project touches 15 communes in three districts in Ben Tre; it can’t touch everyone. But we hope that the lessons we learn from the project, in terms of livelihoods, awareness raising and planning, can be applied by local authorities to other parts of Ben Tre and the [Mekong Delta] region in the future,” said Manning.
The Mekong Delta region, dotted with paddies, catfish farms and fruit gardens, is home to more than 17 million Vietnamese, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the country’s GDP. It is among the most vulnerable regions in Vietnam when it comes to climate change.