Two Vietnam provinces shrug as they're swallowed by the sea

By Dang Hanh, TN News

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Locals sit in front of the house of Nguyen Thi Trang’s mother, which is next to her house that was swept away by sea erosion. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Locals sit in front of the house of Nguyen Thi Trang’s mother, which is next to her house that was swept away by sea erosion. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

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Every year, from October to April, northeast winds kick up waves that swallows houses, shrimp-ponds and beaches in the southern provinces of Ben Tre and Tien Giang.  

Government efforts to mitigate erosion have done little to hamper the annual losses, which grow greater by the year.

One day this March, Nguyen Thi Trang, her husband and their kids, fled their house in in Tien Giang province shortly before it collapsed into fierce waves.

The house, located in the coastal district of Go Cong Dong's Tan Thanh ward was built ten years ago with the couple's life savings.

“The beginning of the northeastern storm season typically sends strong waves crashing into our home. I spent VND 10 million (almost US$500) buying sandbags to bulk up the walls but they were smashed to pieces just two months into the season. Even the foundation was swept away,” the woman told a Tuoi Tre reporter.

Trang’s family is just one of hundreds of households in the Southern Province left homeless by the increasingly violent ocean. Northeast winds and waves have swallowed whole 50-meter chunks of the province's coastal neighborhoods.

In the past three years, in particular, erosion has grown tougher and tougher, locals say.

Tan Thanh ward is one of the places in the province that's suffered the worst.
Ward Chairman Ngo Phi Truong said that 20 hectares of reclaimed land have been swept away in recent years.

“Three houses collapsed this season and 44 others were badly affected and could collapse any time,” said Truong.

This season, Trang and her family members have safely moved into her mother’s house next door. But they wonder how long the home will hold out.

“My mother’s house has been butressed by dozens of sandbags, but in the coming wind, it will soon collapsed just like mine.”

Sitting beside Trang, her neighbor whose house used to stand behind hers, shared the same worries.

“My house was built in 2008, at that time the sea was far away. Now everything has been swallowed,” said Co Thi Thuong.

“[All I can do is] temporarily live here, since we have nowhere else to go,” Thuong said, pointing to the two-meter wide thatched hut she built on the foundation of her wrecked home.

Roughly 15 kilometers of the province's coast have been swallowed by waves. 
The hamlet of Thua Trung, in the Binh Dai district’s Thua Dai ward, has lost around 50 hectares of farm and residential land dealing a heavy blow to its 45 households.

A race against time

Vietnam's 3,200km coastline stretches through 28 coastal provinces and cities, making Vietnam one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change.

The speed of erosion has increased year-on-year said Le Van Cong, Deputy Head of the Viet Nam Administration of Seas and Islands' Oceanography Center at a workshop last year in Hanoi.

According to Cong, the higher frequency and intensity of tropical storms, reckless exploitation of sand bars and reefs, and mangrove deforestation are all to blame for rising coastal erosion in Vietnam.

Tran Hoang Ba, deputy director of Tien Giang province’s Agriculture and rural development department, said that a project to build a 17-kilometer “soft jetty” was approved by the provincial people’s committee. The jetty is to be built out of sandbags to prevent the sea waves from sweeping away the coastline.

“A single kilometer of soft jetty costs around VND 20 billion ($940,000) to build. So it will take a lot of money [to build the whole jetty]. As such, we've only initiated a pilot project along Tan Thanh ward’s 1.3 kilometer coastline. The rest will be left to the sea erosion, and we will help our residents move away from dangerous areas,” Ba said.

According to Ba, the province has given residents in vulnerable areas subsidies of VND 10 – 20 million to support their relocation to safer areas. However, most of them cannot afford to buy new land with those funds.
Instead, they've used the money to repair past  damages and brace for the coming winds .

The People’s committee of Ben Tre province said that re-planting mangrove forests was considered a long-term solution to the on-going problem. However, they have yet to see results.

“Waves in recent years were so strong that they swept away all the nascent forests,” said Pham Hoang Long, chairman of the Thua Duc ward.

Nguyen Van Hai, chief of the Agriculture and rural development department of the Tien Giang province’s Phu Dong district, added that the district’s seven hectares of sparse forest was swallowed by fierce waves.

Nguyen Khanh Hoan, chief of Ben Tre’s irrigation and flood prevention department, admitted that there isn't a specific project that will solve the problem, but a lack of mitigation funds may be the biggest problem.

“Our short-term solution [to erosion] is to support our residents' moves to safer areas.”

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