by Le Ha
HA NOI — Carrying a bag of clothes collected from a nearby laundry, Nguyen Van Thanh, a resident of Chuong Duong District's Alley 639, went home after work to find the foundations of his home half eaten away. The building looked ready to collapse.
|A house near collapse due to a landslip in Ha Noi's Long Bien District. The problem is exacerbated by illegal enterprises mining for sand, allowing water to encroach under houses. — VNA/VNS Photo Minh Dung
His two children rushed up to meet him and gave him a big hug, alleviating the sense of grief that had overcome him. Thanh's family has lived there since 1990. Formerly, the area was on the bank of the Red River. His house was 100 metres from the riverside, allowing him to run a small farm.
"Since dredges and workers from other areas started exploiting sand from the riverside, the banks have gradually eroded," he said.
During the wet season, foundations of houses along the riverbank are often under water. At the end of last month, river water intruded in his home's foundations while the family were sleeping. The walls suddenly cracked loudly. "Everybody woke up, grabbed their clothes and furniture and rushed out," said Thanh. Since then, their belongings have been stored at a neighbours' home.
The local authorities locked his house in case of further landslips. Since then, Thanh has had to sleep outside in hammock while his wife and children stay with neighbours who have kindly given them temporary accommodation and even food to survive the difficult time.
According to Nguyen Vinh Thuy, deputy head of Residential Group 82, in Chuong Duong Street, a total of six households are seriously endangered. Thuy pointed to the end of several lanes where river water was eroding residential foundations. Local authorities have erected barriers with signs saying "Danger. No entrance".
However, children still play around the dangerous areas, not knowing if and when the buildings will collapse. The situation adds to an already difficult life led by local people, said Thuy. Worries and hardship have left their imprints on their faces.
"Few of the people here have a stable job. They not only struggle to make ends meet, but also worry about the threat of floods likely to swallow their houses," he said.
Thanh and his wife have been struggling to raise their two children. He is a xe om (motorbike taxi) driver with total income of VND2.3 million (US$109) per month. His wife works as a cleaner, which brings her nearly VND2 million ($95) per month.
Unable to get a house in the city, they saved money to buy the one they lived in along the riverside. But if the water rises any further, their home – and savings – are likely to be swept away.
River water has also encroached on the foundations of a third house owned by Pham Thi Sen at the end lane of Chuong Duong Street. The concrete courtyard of the house has also sunk. The house could be swept away anytime. A few days ago, local officers stretched a cord and set up wooden fence and warning sign. About 10 other houses in the lane are threatened.
Sen exhaled in loud exasperation and said: "In the short term, my children and I will stay in our friends' houses, then we hope the State will build embankments to protect the house so we can return to normal life. Now, we don't know where we will go."
Nguyen Bich Phuong, a resident in 661 Alley, is also living in a threatened house, which is now leaning at an angle. She said that some days ago, while her family were having lunch, a big cracking sound came from the wall.
Everyone stopped eating and ran out of the house. Afterwards, the front iron door was leaning and ready to fall. The floor was tilted. "I have lived here since 1998," Phuong said. "People here have been used to living with floods and landslides. In 2005, when the floods hit, we all had to climb to the second floor. We carried the children on out backs to school. The water rose until it was up to my chest. We often had to exit through the roofs of houses. We used to be very hungry because there was no food left."
She added that each family had to struggle with their plight with almost no official help.
Thuy said that this year, landslides occurred much more often than last year. On August 2, the Red River water level peaked at 8.2 metres because the hydro-electric plants were discharging reservoir water and dredges were weakening the banks by mining sand.
The police requested the mining to stop, however it still goes on. Sand is still exploited stealthily at night, according to Thuy. He added that although ward and dyke-management forces were dealing with the problems, most households affected received no accommodation support. They claim to live like refugees after their homes collapse.
"Moreover, the locality lacks land for households hit by flooding and landslides. The most seriously affected will move to temporary accommodation at the head office of the ward's People's Committee in Hong Ha Street," he said.
The people's committees of both Chuong Duong Ward and Hoan Kiem District were unavailable for comment. Meanwhile, Do Duc Thinh, director of the Ha Noi Flood, Storm Control and Dyke Management Department, said that after incidents of landslide along the Red River, local authorities requested households to move out of dangerous areas.
"However, in the long run, we need more rural land for those affected," he said.
As an urgent measure, Ha Noi's People's Committee will also include more land affected by flooding and landslides into its rural residential area plan.
Ha Noi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has proposed that local authorities build new houses in safe areas to relocate 515 households living along the Red River in Son Tay Town, 156 households in Gia Lam District and 116 households affected by landslides along the Da River in Ba Vi District.
Local authorities have also been urged to build stone embankments for people's safety in residential areas prone to flooding and landslides. — VNS