Climate Change Environment Health Human Rights

The Environmental Impact and Humanitarian Crisis Seeping through the Vietnam Floods

These catastrophic floods that began in October are a result of a perfect storm of typhoons sweeping through Asia from east to west, creating some of the country’s most severe floods in decades.

Leaving immense devastation in its murky path, the floods drowning central Vietnam have resulted in over 214 dead or missing people. These catastrophic floods that began in October are a result of a perfect storm of typhoons sweeping through Asia from east to west, creating some of the country’s most severe floods in decades. Commencing on October 11th, tropical storms Molave, Linfa, Nangka, and Saudel have propelled an alarming sequence of landslides, strong winds, and overwhelming amounts of rainfall. These storms also killed 16 people in the Philippines before advancing west to Vietnam.

With the onset of a La Nina weather system associated with atypical cold temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, the extent of these storms has reached consequential heights with rainfall measurements ranging from 5.9 inches to a record 94.5 inches. In addition to these devastating environmental consequences and figures surrounding injuries and fatalities, central Vietnam has simultaneously been burdened with negative socioeconomic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and displacement as more Vietnamese people are pushed to the brink of poverty without sufficient forms of shelter or protection.

As a result of the floods alone, which have cut off access to electricity and roads, Vietnam’s agricultural landscape has been drastically altered. Over 7,200 hectares of damaged food crops lie beneath the surface of the water, and more than 691,000 cattle and poultry have been killed or displaced. With the added consequences of typhoons containing 85-mile-per-hour winds setting perilous landslides into motion, the catastrophic results surrounding the profound loss of people’s lives and property are even more concerning. Immense power outages have also been attached to these environmental disasters with about 7.7 million residents’ neighborhoods harmfully affected with around 380,000 homes being flooded, damaged, or destroyed. Provinces most severely affected by these floods include Quang Tri, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, and Quang Binh, Quang Nam, Nghe An, and Ha Thinh, which collectively span from Vietnam’s North Central Coast to the South Central Coast region. Signifying the potential of the country’s largest military loss in peacetime according to Vietnamese officials, a landslide on October 18 demolished soldiers’ barracks in Huong Phung Commune located in Quang Tri.

These floods have also presented life-threatening situations in the workforce. About 20 workers were trapped overnight at a dam construction site in Quang Ngai due to the rapidly rising dam water resulting from torrential rain from Typhoon Molave. Furthermore, around 17,000 people have been evacuated to obtain refuge from the strong winds and rain. In an endeavor to seek shelter from the storm, two fishing boats sank and 26 fishermen remain missing in Binh Dinh. Facing rising flood water, submerged houses, and landslides containing 30,000 tons of rock and soil, Quang Binh has evacuated about 60 residents from 13 households. In Hue city, which has evacuated over 20,700 people, police and soldiers have utilized canoes and boats in Ha Tinh to access areas facing the most severe extent of flooding to relocate people and property to safety.

These floods and storms have also unleashed a complex humanitarian crisis. This “double disaster” entailing the unique socioeconomic challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic and enhanced by the floods has demonstrated severe repercussions for vulnerable groups. Vietnamese response plan data indicates that 753,000 of people directly affected in terms of personal losses and lack of access to resources following the floods are women and girls, 134,000 are children under five, and 143,000 are over 65 years old. More than 50 schools have had their roofs blown off as a result of the tropical cyclones and 360 schools have been flooded and damaged, creating physical and financial barriers to children’s education.

Moreover, about 375,000 people are living temporarily in overcrowded evacuation centers which lack adequate access to water, sanitation, and mental and physical health. The quality of management required to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to foster a safe environment particularly for vulnerable groups is also insufficient. Additionally, the areas most severely affected by flooding have also experienced a second wave of Covid-19 in July and August, with more individuals facing poverty during lockdown. Over 78 health centers and hospitals have also been damaged and flooded, which are already facing challenges with increased capacity amid Covid-19. Due to the fact that Vietnam’s economy is dependent on tourism, with millions of tourists traveling internationally to the country annually, the country is facing economic challenges on a national and personal level. Paired with the harrowing economic results of the pandemic, the consequences of these environmental issues are expected to include an increase in severe effects on food security and people’s livelihoods.

International efforts in solidarity with Vietnam consisting of financial and resource contributions are currently being employed to alleviate the devastation exacerbated by the floods, storms, and landslides. Red Cross disaster teams are collaborating with local authorities to provide relief assistance in addition to providing $325,000, and the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee is giving $860,000 to families impacted by the floods in central provinces. Likewise, Australia is donating $71,390, South Korea is providing $300,000, and the U.S. is giving $100,000 in an effort to alleviate immediate threats to the well-being, safety, and access to resources for people in central Vietnam.

Furthermore, UN agencies and partners have developed a multi-sector response plan to support emergency relief efforts. For example, UNICEF has provided resources surrounding public health, nourishment, and protection and the Vietnamese army has deployed troops and vehicles for search and rescue missions. Vietnamese government response plans entail delivering immediate, life-saving assistance to those in most urgent need as well as ensuring protection against violence and discrimination for vulnerable groups, including women and girls, elderly people, members of the LGBTQ community, the disabled community, the 177,000 people considered vulnerable (poor or near-poor).
The Vietnamese government is also prioritizing the prevention of Covid-19 outbreaks among people affected by these disasters and maintaining citizens’ ability to access assistance and critical services pertaining to social, medical, nutritional, educational, and other needs. Through local and international contributions from individuals, businesses, and government organizations demonstrating compassionate commitment to alleviating the multi-faceted consequences of this situation, the process of initiating significant progress provides a glimmer of hope through the overwhelming devastation left in the wake of these disasters.

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By Marianna Schroeder

Marianna Schroeder is an undergraduate sociology student at UCLA and previously attended Saddleback College. Topics that interest her include social inequalities and stratification, crime and deviance, education, gender and sexuality, and global issues.

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