‘Natural’ disasters turn ‘princes’ into paupers

November 20, 2017 - 14:14

Nguyễn Hồng Quân, 38, used to be considered one among the richest men in Ngã Ba Village, Gia Phù Commune in the northern mountainous province of Sơn La.

It is estimated that each year, after the flooding season, hundreds of people in the northwestern mountainous region became penniless. — Photo baotainguyenmoitruong.vn

HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Hồng Quân, 38, was seen one of the richest residents of Ngã Ba Village in the northern mountainous province of Sơn La.

In just one night last month, however, he lost everything as floods swept through his village.

“It was around 4am on October 11, water flowed in and in just a few minutes, the house was flooded,” Quân told Nông thôn Ngày nay (Countryside Today).

“The flood swept away all the furnishings. We all had to run out of the house. Minutes later, the house was cut into two and collapsed.”

The house was not just a house. It was also a shop selling electronic products and household appliances, earning his household hundreds of millions of đồng each year.

Then there was his farm growing mushrooms, which yielded an annual profit of over VNĐ300 million (US$13,300). It was also destroyed, completely.

“Nothing left. We have to start again. The most important thing now is how to earn enough to provide basic necessities such as food and clothes for the whole family,” he said.

Quân is among thousands of people pushed into poverty by natural disasters.

Pushed back

It is estimated that each year, after the flooding season, hundreds of people in the northwestern mountainous region became penniless.

Many households who have worked hard to escape poverty are pushed back below the line by flooding.

Sơn La is one of the provinces in the region that has a high rate of poor households. The poverty gets worse after each flood or storm that hits the province, making it a long-standing phenomenon.

Before the floods in August, Lường Thị Hiếu’s family in the province’s Nậm Păn Commune was one among those living near the poverty line. Now, her family is categorized as a specially disadvantaged household.

“My house, my crops, my farm and my domestic fowls ... all were swept away,” she said.

Chairman of the Nam Pan People’s Committee, Lò Văn Cẩn, said poor households in the commune accounted for nearly 42 per cent. “The rate is certainly higher now as the recent floods have left many households broke.”

Mường La District in Sơn La Province already reported a poverty rate of 48.26 per cent. After the storm and flooding in August, the district listed another 93 households as poor.   

‘Can’t escape…’

The flooding that hit central Hà Tĩnh Province in September also pushed many residents to near or below the poverty line. The province had over 41,000 poor households and 30,600 near-poverty households.

Nguyễn Tất Chiến, a resident of the province’s Kỳ Thượng Commune, said his house, which he built after saving money for many years, collapsed during the storm. “We cannot escape poverty if storms and floods keep destroying everything like that,” he said.

Chairman of the commune’s People’s Committee,Vũ Trung Tiến, said 75 houses collapsed and more than 1,800 lost their roofs in the storm. Disadvantaged and poor households typically suffered the most, he said.

Typhoon Damrey earlier this month killed at least 69 people in central and south-central localities and left 30 others missing. It wrecked 1,484 houses, blew away 119,222 roofs and destroyed about 22,000ha of crops.

Climate change impacts

While northern and central localities suffered from severe consequences of storms and floods, the southern and south-central region have often had to bear damage caused by increasing drought and salinity.

Ninh Thuận Province, for example, suffered losses estimated at over VNĐ184 billion last year. More than 5,000 animals died of drought and tens of thousands of hectares of crops were destroyed. This is one of the reasons the province has a high poverty rate of 37 per cent.

It is evident here that natural disasters have severely impacted poverty reduction efforts.

Lê Viết Phái, Head of the Emergency Assistance Office under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs’ Department of Social Protection, told Nông thôn Ngày nay that natural disasters have been “extraordinary” in recent years in terms of their number and level of consequences.

The amount of rice given as support to those affected by natural disasters last year doubled the average amount of previous years at 67,000 tonnes. In the first ten months of 2017, the Government provided over 32,000 tonnes of rice to people living in natural disaster-hit localities, higher than the whole of 2015. The Government had to spend VNĐ500 billion ($22 million) just on helping people recover from the tenth storm to hit the country in September.

Việt Nam is said to be one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, having to face several natural disasters every year. Approximately 70 per cent of the population living in rural areas are highly susceptible to climate change impacts, it is estimated.

According to the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control, natural disasters last year caused a total of VNĐ40 trillion (approximately $1.8 billion) in economic losses for Việt Nam. Over the last 30 years, economic losses from natural disasters have cost Việt Nam an average of 1-1.5 per cent of its GDP per year.

According to international NGO Oxfam, poor people in Việt Nam are not only hardest hit by natural disasters but also face more difficulties in recovering from their consequences than other groups due to limited resources.

Natural disasters also make it harder for poor people to get access to credit.  Besides, the more severe the natural disaster, the more the poor have to spend on food and healthcare.

Building resilience

Many measures have been taken to help the poor better adapt to climate change impacts, including natural disasters. These have aimed to increase their capacity through programmes that incorporate climate change adaptation with mitigation measures.

Local authorities in vulnerable localities have initiated new cultivation models to adapt to climate change.

In July, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc affirmed that Việt Nam would strive to complete the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals, with a focus on poverty and inequality reduction, education, renewable energy and climate change adaptation.

Việt Nam has integrated climate change adaptation into planning and development schemes and pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent by 2030 or even 25 per cent, if it receives effective support from the international community. — VNS