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Greedy developers often to blame for floods

Update: September, 24/2015 - 09:16

by Hoang Anh

Streets were turned into riv-ers in Ha Noi and HCM City in a matter of hours over the last few days in what have been described as historic rainfalls. Traffic was thrown into chaos as thousands of residents scrambled to get home in the driving rain that lasted for hours at a time.

The cause for the deluges was quickly put down to climate change, but the man-in-the-street blamed the poor drainage in both cities. They knew that the flooding occurred in the same place every year, even when the rainfall was moderate to heavy. This is despite the billions of dollars spent on anti-flooding projects.

Flooding has become too familiar in our big cities. And as the country continues to build more cities, it seems there will be more flooding.

Experts tend to associate rapid urbanisation with flooding. This is because the soil and trees that once used to soak up the rain has been largely concreted over or built on - and many f the natural lakes h ave been filled in.

In addition, the reclamation or narrowing down of many rivers and canals has made it much harder for water to get away to the Hong (Red) River, the region's biggest river. In other words, urban flooding is largely man made.

City planners often consider flooding as a headache to be solved by water engineers at a later stage of development. The mentality is to build first and protect later.

The problem is that most Vietnamese cities are newly developed. Perhaps it's time for city planners to work with water engineers at the start of the urban planning process. Flood prevention should be an integrated element of urban planning, not a byproduct to be addressed later.

Urban development must be planned with flood mitigation in mind. For starters, choosing higher land for development rather than low land could save the public billions of dollars.

Allowing the earth to absorb and store water naturally is another key objective. Many countries are enforcing regulations that require urban areas to be built and designed so that the earth can absorb rainwater immediately.

The establishment of parks can also help. Parks act as a massive sponge to absorb and store water. They also improve residents' quality of life and help reduce pollution.

I am puzzled to see trees in cities often surrounded by a low "fence" made of bricks placed there by adjacent householders. The fences block water from reaching the tree and disappearing into the soil.

Another issue that we rarely hear about is how real-estate developers, who profit from the transformation of millions of hectares of natural landscapes into concrete blocks, contribute so little to solving flood problems.

A major handicap for anti-flooding infrastructure projects is funding. Yet real-estate developers, many of whom have made fortunes with their expensive malls, villas and condos, contribute little to averting flood problems and others that they create, despite promises - and the so-called regulations.

Many fortunes, unfortunately, have been made at the expense of the public.

In March, the country imposed an eco-tax on oil and gas to mitigate the adverse effects of pollution. A similar principle was also meant to apply to real-estate projects, but this rarely happened. Many developers have managed to avoid paying for vital hospitals, schools and roads in new developments.

Viet Nam authorities now require developers to carry out infrastructure projects at the same time as they erect their skyscrapers. No-one today wants to buy an apartment in a flood-prone area - or one without a school.

Urban development plans that do not take prepare against floods will just delay the inevitable. The problems developers refuse to tackle today will eventually be dealt with by the next generation, because the rain will not stop. — VNS

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