Disaster preparedness and
resiliency: Vietnam


Population: 97,456,546

Major Threats: Floods, Tpyhoons, Landslides, Earthquakes, Drought

Populations Affected: Urban & Rural Poor, Farmers, Coastal Communities

Locations Affected: All

Industries Affected: Agriculture, Technology/Communications, Manufacturing

Compounding Issues: Urban Migration, Informal Settlements, Environmental Degradation, Climate Change

World Risk Index Ranking: 40/173

Global Climate Risk Index: 6/178

With a coastline of 3,440 kilometers, Vietnam is prone to a wide range of disasters including floods, typhoons, landslides and drought. Approximately 71 percent of the population and 59 percent of the land area are vulnerable to disasters, with floods and storms as the most destructive occurrences with the highest number of fatalities and economic damage .

According to the World Bank, Vietnam loses 1-1.5 percent of GDP annually due to natural disasters, which hinders the social and economic development of the country . Since Vietnam is situated in a high risk location, there is a constant need to adapt to climate change in order to mitigate the effects on its development progress.

Vietnam lies within the Southeast Asian typhoon belt that brings frequent rain and heavy wind. Vietnam experiences an average of 6-10 storms a year with a chance of maturing into typhoons . Floods and storms are recurring disasters that heavily impact the north central and delta region. Floods occur primarily in the central plain, along the Red River basin and Mekong delta, and account for more fatalities, whereas storms, along the coastal region, account for more physical damage. The north central region is often hit by storms and typhoons that are accompanied by heavy rain, coastal flooding, and landslides. The disaster-prone provinces with the highest frequencies of both storms and floods are Quang Binh, Thanh Hoa, Quang Tri, Thua Thein Hue, Quang Ngai, and Binh Dinh .

Most investment in disaster preparedness from the international community and government currently focuses on flooding, and specifically infrastructure projects aimed at mitigation. For international donors, there are opportunities to support trainings in community-based preparedness and resiliency strategies. Specifically, helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) form resiliency and recovery plans prior to disaster can mitigate much of the uncertainty in supply and food chains and economic loss that typically accompany disasters.

Poverty contributes to the population’s vulnerability in disaster-prone areas. Rural households often live in poorly constructed homes and have low quality schools, irrigation system and infrastructure making them susceptible to hazards. Approximately 70 percent of the population is concentrated in the floodplains and coastal areas relying on natural resources to maintain subsistence; most engaging in fisheries and agriculture. The destruction of mangrove forests for aquaculture and other environmental degradation caused by industries and manufacturers are contributing factors to Vietnam’s vulnerability .

Similarly, the urban population, which is engaged in the industrial and manufacturing sector, is also threatened by natural disasters because of its proximity to coastal areas and floodplains. Due to the surge in economic growth, urban migration increases stress on land-use planning, infrastructure and housing. High population density and large economic assets increases the risk from disaster adversities in major cities like Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Hai Phong, and Hanoi. According to a report by the Ministry of Construction, 50 percent of houses in urban centers and 20 percent of rural houses are capable of withstanding severe weather. As the intensity of disasters increases with climate variability, the magnitude of impact on urban areas and the possibility of wiping out any progress Vietnam has made remains high .

SMEs compose of 90 percent of Vietnamese businesses, employ nearly 80 percent of the population, and produce over 40 percent of the national GDP. According to a report by The Asia Foundation, these businesses are often family-run and have limited coping capacity. Although SMEs contribute significantly to the national economy, 46 percent of SMEs have not yet developed a plan for disaster risk management. As a result, many SMEs still remain at high risk to natural hazards .

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank both rank Vietnam as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change according to land area impacted, population affected, and economic loss. Studies have shown a steady rise in sea level and an increase in temperature will lead to a loss of land mass and hotter summers. Based on historical data, the trajectory of natural hazard cases has been on the rise and is expected to increase over time. Reports have documented the change in intensity of tropical storms and fluctuations of rainfall, which can worsen the impact.

  • Typhoons

    According to historical data from 1989-2010, storms and typhoons accounted for 49 percent of all natural disasters .

    Vietnam has seen increasing numbers and intensity of storms and typhoons, especially in the last three decades. Over a 50 year period (1954-2006) there were 380 storms and tropical depressions affecting Vietnam, almost equally divided between the north, central, and southern regions. Storms are often accompanied by long heavy rain, and a storm surge causing flooding. Up to 80-90 percent of Vietnam’s population is vulnerable to storms.

    In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana swept through central Vietnam killing 163 people and causing a total economic loss of $785 million. In 2006, Typhoon Xangsane hit 15 provinces in the central region and caused $624 million in damage, approximately 2.9 percent of total GDP . A flood in 2008 caused a similar impact damaging $479 million in assets .

  • Floods

    Floods are also one of the major and most dangerous types of natural disaster in Vietnam, constituting 37 percent of all disasters . The flood season in each region varies according the rainfall pattern. The flood season in the Red River and Thai Binh River system normally occurs from May to September, earlier than in other regions. The flood season on the rivers from Thanh Hoa to Ha Tinh is from June to October every year. On the rivers from Quang Binh to Binh Thuan, the flood season is from September to December.

    Flash floods and mudflow often occur in mountainous areas where steep slopes and high rainfall combine with inadequate drainage systems. Flash floods can also occur due to rupture of small reservoirs. Flash flood has occurred and is likely to occur across 33 mountainous provinces in the country in four regions: the northern mountains, central, central highlands and southeast. Flash floods are also more likely to occur as climate change continues.

    More efforts are made by civil society and the government to mitigate floods across Vietnam than any other disaster.

  • Drought

    Drought causes the third greatest losses in Vietnam despite only representing two percent of disaster events . In some particular years, drought reduces food productivity by 20-30 percent, thus severely threatening people’s livelihoods and food security. In recent years, droughts have occurred in all regions of the country successively. Fight against drought typically meets difficulties due to lack of water and depletion of the upstream reservoirs. A prolonged drought will lead to the risk of desertification in some regions, especially the South Central region, coastal sandy areas and slopes of the midland and mountainous area.

  • Landslides

    Due to the geophysical landscape consisting of large mountainous areas and lowland areas by the deltas, Vietnam is vulnerable to landslides, especially in the northern and central highlands. However, total landslides account for a mere three percent of all natural disasters.

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the location of 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes, the Philippines has experienced numerous high magnitude seismic events. The country also has 22 active volcanoes. Both events are rare, but extremely destructive.

In 2004, the Philippine government, combine with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, studied the Valley fault, which runs through Metro Manila and its environs in order to identify vulnerable areas, according to flammability, evacuation difficulty and building collapse.

From the government to local NGOs, there are great efforts across Vietnam to prevent disasters and adapt to climate change.

The Government of Vietnam has launched the National Strategy For Natural Disaster Prevention, Response and Mitigation to 2020 to focus on improving adaptive capabilities. However, there are challenges including corruption in Vietnam, which divert funds away from the programs and their potential beneficiaries, and the lack of coordination among ministries to implement disaster reduction strategies .

Currently, 17 international organizations (e.g. Asian Disaster Reduction Center, Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, ASEAN, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction) funded and implemented disaster risk reduction projects in 23 provinces by cooperating with local nonprofits and government agencies . The World Bank led a community-based disaster risk management project in 12 provinces across Vietnam to build 11 flood and storm mitigation infrastructure projects, including river dykes, evacuation routes, and drainage systems. The project mobilized the government to fund a $450 million national disaster risk management program that serves 6,000 communities across the country . However, these developments are constantly being destroyed due to limited know-how and use of low quality materials .

Communities recognize the need to improve their housing structure to prevent floods and resist storms by raising the floors and using storm-resistant materials. However, many communities lack the financial resources and the knowledge to carry out risk reduction efforts. In rural areas, local communities hold public meetings at neighborhood centers and disseminate early disaster warnings through loudspeakers. Despite the efforts, some rural villages are located outside the audible range and far from the centers .

Approximately 40-50 NGOs have been working in Vietnam to educate local communities about climate change adaptation and implement disaster risk reduction projects, especially flood-related disasters. Many NGOs are using the bottom-up approach by empowering community members to encourage cooperation between sectors and strengthen local institutions. However, there are some limitations in the implementation due to a disconnect between government agencies and NGOs and insufficient materials and funds. Furthermore, the ministries possess a limited staff capacity to readily assess the needs and undertake the implementation process. Lastly, most attention is given to floods and not enough efforts are made to mitigate risks from other disasters.

In a twenty-year time span from 1991-2010, Vietnam received a total of $303.81 million in disaster risk reduction funding from the international community . The amount in international aid has been escalating especially from 2006-2010 when Vietnam received a total of $82 million in overseas development assistance (ODA) funds for disaster risk reduction. The top donors have been Japan, Australia and the Netherlands . As the economic growth in Vietnam continues to rise, there is a greater need both internationally and nationally to improve its resilience and reduce interruptions in economic activities.

The government has also shifted its attention to funding infrastructure and urban development in the coastal zone, allotting 11.4 percent of national budget to infrastructure investments, in order to prepare for hazards. There has not been a budget for climate change adaptation specifically, but a number of ministries including the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of Planning and Investment, Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, and Ministry of Construction have disaster reduction policies incorporated into their development plans . The state law requires an allocation of 2-5 percent of the central and local budgets “to meet contingent spending on preventing, combating, and overcoming consequences of God and fires.” A high proportion of the budget is used on disaster risk mitigation, leaving less than two percent for disaster relief operations. Due to insufficient funding and scarce resources, the recovery period takes 4-5 years.

Vietnam is vulnerable to a number of hazards across the country. The north, central and southern coasts are almost equally hit by cyclones, while low-lying inland areas are all vulnerable to flood. Donors have opportunities to help warn the public about these events, mitigate their effects, and prepare communities to respond, including:

  • Community-based disaster risk management trainings, or Community-managed disaster risk reduction trainings.
  • Improving drainage systems in flood prone areas.
  • Supporting small to medium size enterprises with preparedness and resiliency planning.

Most local programs focus on the local communities and the people living in high risk areas. Though they are an integral part of these communities, SMEs are not typically considered for these programs. An initial study in 2011 from The Asia Foundation found that of the numerous disaster related initiatives currently being or that will be implemented at the national and local levels in Vietnam, none have a focus on the business community.

Given that community resilience depends greatly on the ability of the private sector to bounce back, re-establish production and continue to provide employment to local workers in the aftermath of disasters, the lack of preparedness on the part of the business community is glaring. This is particularly problematic for SMEs, which significantly contribute to national income and employment generation but often do not have disaster management or response plans as part of their operations. According to VCCI, most businesses in Vietnam do not have adequate information or contingency plans for risks associated with natural disasters, the knowledge and capacity to estimate for losses incurred by national disasters, nor insurance schemes to mitigate such losses. As such, business planning and disaster preparedness remain at a very basic level for a country that is pushing beyond its low-middle income status.

Additionally, The Asia Foundation’s study on philanthropic giving in Vietnam in 2009 indicates that businesses, particularly large scale Vietnamese businesses, give regularly and consider their donations a part of giving back to the community. This is often done on a case-by-case basis rather than as strategic component of a broader Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) effort. For companies that do give and want to give meaningfully to those in need, much can be done to help support their philanthropic efforts in effective ways that will help the lives of many but also contribute to the sustainability of Vietnam’s long-term disaster risk management efforts.

In Vietnam, The Asia Foundation (TAF) is the first INGO working on disaster preparedness for SMEs. Specifically, it has been working on supporting SMEs in disaster risk management (DRM) since 2011. TAF has created a network of businesses, experts, authorities regarding the topic through three main focused activities:

  • Training for SMEs – building DRM action plan to prepare for disasters: since 2011, there were about 1,200 people from more than 800 SMEs trained under our program. The training includes ToT training which help created a network of core trainers throughout the country who are experts and business trainers from different organizations and training institutions.
  • Policy dialogue for DRM in SMEs: TAF has organized a number of policy dialogues to improve public private cooperation on disaster, engaging on policy development and practical cooperation.
  • CSR: DRM-related CSR remains rare in Vietnam despite the evident need for it. Few businesses contribute to community preparedness, restricting their engagement to philanthropic giving. The Foundation has been working to pilot community engagement with business by working with the VCCI regional offices in several provinces. The planning process is participatory and includes support for practical activities.

Contribute directly to Give2Asia’s Disaster Preparedness Fund.

Donations will go towards supporting NGOs preparing communities for disasters across Asia.