by Ngoc Bich
Ha Noi survived the torrential downpour last Friday afternoon that claimed two lives and uprooted a record of 200 trees. Ha Noi Green Tree and Park Company said this easily beat the 88 trees downed during storms in 2008. Most of the trees toppled last week were decades old, providing shade for major streets such as Hai Ba Trung, Ly Thuong Kiet and Le Thanh Tong.
However, botanists said most of them were nacres, which have shallow roots and large canopies and were not totally suitable for urban environments. The tree that fell in Lo Duc Street killing a taxi driver was only centimetres away from exposed pipes and mains.
This raises concern that unplanned construction and urban-improvement projects are ruining the city's ability to resist floods. People in Ha Noi have become used to smooth pavements suddenly being retiled, and, shortly after, dug up and turned over by drainage, phone or electricity workers.
This procedure might work on a small scale, but on a bigger scale, problems certainly arise. Clearly, plans to improve infrastructure – and drainage in particular – are well behind the speed of urbanisation.
Indeed, the flood situation does not seem to have improved much despite the best efforts of the authorities and hundreds of millions of dollars invested to upgrade the drainage system. In 1996, Ha Noi launched a US$550-million project to improve a drainage system divided into two phases. The first phase ended in 2005 and the second is expected to be completed by 2013.
The costly and long-lasting project, in fact, is restricted to areas around the To Lich and Red Rivers, but the city is being developed towards the West. Therefore, it does not target new urban areas like My Dinh, Trung Hoa-Nhan Chinh, Dinh Cong, and Linh Dam, where high-rise buildings spring up like mushrooms.
As a result, the new urban areas are isolated from the city's common infrastructure. Therefore, it is not strange that they are often the most affected by heavy rains. Meanwhile the Old Quarter, redeveloped last century on plumbing existing for centuries, rarely faces severe flooding.
I doubt the second phase of the new drainage project will be finished as scheduled, as the completion of the first phase was three years late. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment's Report on National Environment 2010, urban populations are predicted to account for 43-45 per cent of the national figure by 2020. This provides an endless need for new urban areas.
A month ago, at a meeting of the municipal People's Council, Nguyen Van Khoi, deputy chairman of the Ha Noi People's Committee said that by 2030, it would need a total of $3.5 billion to build a comprehensive sewerage system for waste water and rain-water.
It means that by that time, if the city fails to call for State and private investment or foreign financial support for the project, city residents will still have to occasionally row their boats to get across streets – or catch fish to amuse themselves.
But is $3.5 billion enough to solve the problems? While urbanisation and lack of co-ordinated planning can be blamed at the moment, climate change is also beginning to rear its ugly head. Remember, experts warn that Viet Nam is one of five countries expected to be hardest hit.
As long as short-sighted and patchy urban planning and infrastructure continues, we will continue to battle urban flooding. — VNS