High tides push living standards to new lows

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Residents in HCMC speak of their experiences in coping with frequent flooding, and there is no respite in sight


A sign warning of a dangerous hole in a flooded section of Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Thanh District

Weddings.

Funerals.

More mundane daily events like going to school.

All these are thrown into violent disarray as the floods strike.

Even as the nation's central region suffers catastrophic, heartrending impacts of repeated flooding and ensuing landslides, residents of low lying areas in Ho Chi Minh City have their own tales of woe to tell.

For Nguyen Quoc Trung and his family, the grief over a relative's death was compounded by the pouring in of tidal waters into their house.

"I had my house's floor built one meter higher but it is was no protection against inundation. We rushed to take the offerings of flowers and fruits to higher ground yesterday after heavy rains and the high tide," said Trung, who lives in an alley off Pham The Hien Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 8.

"Even the coffin's stand had to be replaced with a higher one to prevent inundation," he said.

It was late afternoon on November 7 when Trung's family held the funeral.

"Our grieving was not finished. We were anxious that our relatives and friends would find it difficult to reach my house and share our loss," he said.

His fears became reality. Another high-tide flooding arrived together with heavy rain. Black murky water began to spill from manholes and flood the alleys and streets in the area.

"The flooding was so serious that our friends had no choice but to wait at higher street sections and phone us," he said.

Later in the day, the neighborhood pooled money to buy a motor to pump water out of the alley and allow access to the funeral and other houses in the alley.

"This alley is located on the Binh An (Safe) archipelago but there is no safety anymore in recent years because tidal floods have damaged roads and houses," said Phan Tuc, a local militiaman.

Unforgettable wedding

Nguyen Minh Nhut of District 10 had an unforgettable wedding two weeks ago when visitors, including his parents from Kien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, could only arrive when the ceremony was nearly over.

LAKES TO ABSORB FLOODWATERS

The Ho Chi Minh City Party Unit Chief, Le Thanh Hai, has instructed the city administration to facilitate projects designed to ease severe flooding in the locality.

In a statement released on November 12, Hai urged immediate approval of a project to build several lakes to contain water during high tides in District 2's Thu Thiem Urban Area, Cu Chi District's North-West Urban Area, Binh Chanh District and an area of 150 hectares in District 12's Thanh Xuan Ward that had been earmarked for a park.

He also asked city officials to review their work in preventing inundation and strictly implementing the 2010-2015 anti-flooding plans.

He said concerned agencies hadn't taken effective measures to prevent flooding, including the construction of sewer systems and preventing illegal encroachment of canals.

He'd sent two of his friends to bring his parents from a bus station in Binh Tan District. Their motorbikes broke down in flooded streets.

"My phone was ringing constantly as relatives phoned to apologize, saying they couldn't come due to severe flooding on the streets," he said. "Some said they couldn't get out of their house in flooded alleys. They were bailing out water that had entered their homes."

When the ceremony was about to end, Nhut's parents arrived, soaking wet with the sewer water that had spilled out onto the streets.

"I have heard about high-tide floods in HCMC but I thought it was minor flooding. Now I know that it is no different from floods in the Mekong Delta," said Nhut's father Truong Minh Giang, recalling wading along Binh Tan District's Kinh Duong Vuong Street that was submerged in water more than a meter high.

Dream home?

Nam Truc, a real estate dealer in Binh Chanh District, said many of his clients had thought it was their great fortune that they were able to buy a house in Binh Hung Commune several years ago because it is located near major thoroughfares and not too far from the city's center.

"However, severe tidal flooding has arrived since 2008. Many locals have had to sell their houses and move to other areas to avoid them," he said, adding that he'd also bought a house in Binh Hung and is struggling with flooding.

Truc said many locals are also facing difficulties in selling their houses due to regular inundation, although prices are much cheaper than in nearby areas that are higher.

"All the buyers ran away after wading through water to see the houses," he said.

Thanh Nien reporters visiting Truc's house at 6 p.m. on November 9 had to rush out of the area soon after waters rose half a meter high and was rising even higher.

"Those with little money have no choice but to suffer living here," Truc said.

Schools turn into swimming pools

Schools in low-lying areas are in the same predicament as homes. Students have to be evacuated frequently as the classrooms get flooded.

Tran Thi Tu, vice principal of the Nguyen Thai Binh Secondary School in Binh Chanh District said they had spent VND1 billion to pave the floor 30 centimeters higher last year, but were unable to avoid getting flooded.

"We have to temporarily evacuate students to staff rooms to continue classes whenever it floods. When water recedes, we mop the rooms and return," she told Thanh Nien.

Students very often have to wade through dirty flood water to reach their classes. "We have become used to it. Today is better, it was to our knees a few days earlier," said ninth-grader Thanh Ngoc.

Tuyen, mother of a student, said she often carries her son on her back to his class when the school yard is flooded.

In Binh Thanh District, the staff and students at Gia Dinh High School dubbed the schoolyard a swimming pool due to regular inundation. During break times, students fished or played with paper boats in the yard.

The yard was rebuilt recently with donations from students' parents but the street leading to the school still floods regularly.

Murky waters

For the residents, there is no easy way to cope with waters entering their homes from overflowing streets, and even from sewers through toilets.

Tran Thi Gai of District 8's Ward 16 said bailing the water out is a daily chore during high-tide days. "Yesterday we had to work until 11 p.m. but the water came in again in the morning," she said.

She had her house floor rebuilt half a meter higher in 2001 and yet another half a meter in 2004, it has not kept the waters at bay.

"My husband intends to brickwall the window because the water began to enter through it," she said, adding that the floor of her house is nearly as high as the lower frame of the window.

Most houses build a small wall, sometimes up to 70 centimeters high, at their doors to prevent water coming in from outside.

Sau Thuy, a resident of Binh Chanh District's Binh Hung Ward installs a pipe to his drainage sewer's opening to prevent water spilling back during high tides.

"It is unbearable. I can't live this way. I am selling my house to move to another place," said one resident in District 8's Ward 16.

FLOODING TO WORSEN

Asia's coastal megacities, including Ho Chi Minh City, will suffer more frequent flooding on a larger scale, affecting millions more than at present, if current climate change trends continue, a new report warns.

The report, Climate Risks and Adaptation in Asian Coastal Megacities, examines the impact of climate change on HCMC, Bangkok and Manila under a range of different scenarios through to 2050. It is the result of a two-year collaborative study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the World Bank.

The report finds that the cost of major flooding events on infrastructure and the economy could run into billions of dollars, with urban poor populations likely to be the hardest hit. It concludes that all three cities need to take targeted, city-specific and cutting edge approaches to meet these challenges.

As coastal megacities, HCMC, Bangkok and Manila face increased climate-related risks such as rising sea levels and an increased frequency of extreme weather events, according to a statement issued regarding the release of the report on October 22.

In HCMC, the report states that around 26 percent of the population is currently affected by extreme storm events, but those numbers could climb to more than 60 percent by 2050. The federal government has expressed interest in a climate change adaptation plan for the city, which can provide an overall framework for adaptation measures within relevant sectors. Infrastructure-based approaches can also be usefully combined with ecosystems-based approaches such as management of mangroves and rehabilitation of urban wetlands.

The report's findings on the three cities are a bellwether for coastal megacities around the world, from Asia to Africa. It says better management of urban environment and infrastructure will help manage potential climate-related impacts in coastal cities, and that climate-related risks should be considered an integral part of city and regional planning. It calls for city-specific solutions that combine infrastructure investment, zoning and ecosystem-based strategies.

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