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Shelter from the Storm: Why flood and storm resilient housing is key to sustainable development in Viet Nam

12 Nov 2017 by Jenty Kirsch-Wood, UNDP Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Specialist
Last week Typhoon Damrey ripped through central Viet Nam.  More than 100 people lost their lives, while more than 130,000 homes were damaged or flooded.  Winds of up to 135 km/hour battered provinces like Khanh Hoa- an area historically has been spared such ferocious storms in the past.  It was particularly poignant that the storm struck as high level global conferences were bringing world leaders together to discuss both the global impact of Climate Change and Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). 

It is sobering that current climate change projections appear to be being proved correct.  Last week’s storm seems very much in line with the Government of Viet Nam’s official climate projections, which forecast both more intense typhoons and storms that that take less predictable, and often southerly tracks.  I hope that the world leaders meeting to discuss Climate Change action in Bonn next week, including the high-level Viet Nam delegation, take note and take action to ensure swifter action to reduce global emissions and to promote adaptation that can reduce future typhoon damage and loss.   Equally important I hope that APEC leaders take note of the massive costs of this storm, and remember that green, low-emissions development is a prerequisite, not an add-on to sustainable economic growth.

However, these aspirations for global accords cannot help the 130,000 families now without a roof over their heads, or surveying the flood damage to their homes and livelihoods today in Viet Nam.  In recent days, UN agencies have been working closely with Government counterparts, the Red Cross and civil society groups to get life-saving help to those most in need.  The Government has asked for our support, and we are working hard to try to provide it, though resources are scare and the need extensive.

Ensuring access to emergency shelter is fundamental to containing the current humanitarian emergency and to saving lives. Helping impacted families repair their homes is critical- particularly as unfortunately the typhoon season is not yet over.

Beyond survival, providing emergency shelter repair facilitates families to stay or return to their homes- significantly increasing personal safety and security, ensuring privacy and dignity and reducing the burden on already stretched emergency response systems.  As emergency accommodation in communes is often housed in schools or government buildings, providing emergency shelter repair to houses, indirectly helps the normalisation of education and other public services.

It also helps step the tide of rural to urban migration often associated with natural disaster impacts.  Such migration, particularly of unaccompanied teenagers seeking employment is well known protection risk factor, often placing these highly vulnerable populations at risk to trafficking other forms of exploitation.

The Government of Viet Nam knows how important safe shelter for poor families is.  In recent years, it has pioneered the National Program to provide support policies and solutions for poor households to build storm and flood resilient houses in Central Region that has helped more than 20,000 of the most vulnerable households build safe homes.  This successful program also helped inspire Viet Nam’s first successful climate resilience project that was among the first globally to win grant funding from the newly established Green Climate Fund (GCF). 

This GCF project is a UNDP-Government of Viet Nam initiative that builds on the current storm and flood resilient housing project and provides incremental support to 4,000 houses to make designs stronger and better able to withstand exactly the kind of storm we saw this week. It targets poor and near poor households living in shelters known to be unsafe. 

As the current phase of the Government’s flagship project draws to an end, I can only hope that in the wake of this week’s events, there will be serious consideration in Government and among donors about what comes next.  We need to extend and expand emergency shelter support for those in need today, but also to fortify future safe housing initiatives targeting the poor and near poor for whom housing loans are often out of reach.  We believe our Green Climate Fund coastal resilience partnership with the Government can generate transformative impact and that skills and capacity required are available in Viet Nam.  But to do this requires more funds and future Government programs to make sure that no vulnerable child, no people with disability, no elderly person living alone, or no family struggling to climb out of poverty needs to worry about that most basic need:  finding shelter from the next storm.


*This blog first appeared on UNDP Viet Nam's website.

Jenty Kirsch-Wood, UNDP Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Specialist