HCMC’s flooding nemesis does not spare its highest district

By Gia Minh   September 20, 2020 | 09:27 pm GMT+7

Thu Duc is the highest district in HCMC, but this fact has not helped it escape the scourge of seasonal flooding.

Worse still, residents have no early respite to look forward to, with proposed solutions moving at snail's pace.

Dang Thi Huong, 64, lives on To Ngoc Van Street near its intersection with Pham Van Dong Street in Thu Duc District. She says that for the past three years, her neighborhood has been inundated every time it rains.

Her family have had to raise their house’s floor to half a meter above the street's surface, but whenever it rains, they still need sheets of hard plastic to shield its façade. Whatever measures they think up "have not helped much," she rues, adding that the water flows in anyway.

"I do not dare to buy any type of sofa or couch for my home because the floodwaters will ruin them all. Other things like the fridge and washing machine have to be propped up higher so they are not damaged by the floodwater," she said.

Dang Thi Huong removes a sheet of plastic she uses to prevent flood water from going in her house in HCMCs Thu Duc District, September 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

Dang Thi Huong removes a sheet of plastic she uses to prevent floodwater from going in her house in HCMC's Thu Duc District, September 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh.

A kilometer away from Huong’s house, Nguyen Ngoc Phuong, 34, who works for a fashion store on Vo Van Ngan Street, says that every time it rains, the entire street gets flooded and the traffic is thrown into chaos. It is common to see motorcyclists fall off their bikes and cars send waves of floodwaters into houses along both sides of the street.

A heavy downpour that lasted for more than an hour on the evening of September 11 paralyzed many areas in and around Thu Duc District.

Dao Muoi, 67, said her family spent all night "fighting" the floodwaters that flowed from outside into her house on an alley in Linh Dong Ward.

When it began raining, her family prepared three sandbags and two wooden planks about half a meter high, to keep water from flowing into the house through the door. This proved an exercise in futility.

"The water rushed in, bringing along trash and insects and when it was gone, mud and soil covered the entire floor, and it stank," she said, adding that this had become a regular occurrence of late.

Thu Duc and a part of its neighbor, District 9, form the highest area in HCMC, at 20-30 meters higher than the national level, set as zero at Do Son District in the northern city of Hai Phong.

The inner-city areas, like Districts 1 and 3, are just two-three meters higher than the national level.

Local residents help a woman after her she falls off her motorbike on Vo Van Ngan Street, September 11, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Local residents help a woman pick up her motorbike amid raging floodwater on Vo Van Ngan Street, Thu Duc District, HCMC, September 11, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Vu Van Diep, director of the Infrastructure Management Center under HCMC Department of Construction, said the two streets of Vo Van Ngan and To Ngoc Van run downhill until they reach the Thu Duc Market. Sewer systems in this area were built a long time ago and are all of small scale, incapable of draining large amounts of water when it rains heavily.

"The mouth of the sewer across Pham Van Dong Street near To Ngoc Van Street, meanwhile, has been encroached by locals, which narrows the flow of drainage, worsening the flooding," he added.

Vo Kim Cuong, HCMC's former deputy chief architect, said the city’s flood control planning has been carried out too slow. As a result, even places in high terrain areas like Thu Duc have suffered much worse flooding in recent years.

Tardy planning

While the existing drainage system is outdated and is yet to receive proper investment for upgrading, more concrete buildings have gone up across the city, reducing its drainage capacity, Cuong said.

"Thu Duc, along with Districts 2 and 9, are to become an ‘innovative urban area’ called Thu Duc City in the future and therefore, the drainage problem must be handled carefully with plans made one step ahead of other urbanization projects," he added.

In late 2018, the city’s Steering Center for the Urban Flooding Control Program suggested building seven reservoirs, six of them underground, to hold 40,000 cubic meters of water in total. The reservoirs would be built in the five districts of Go Vap, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan, Tan Binh and 10.

The reservoirs would be made of polypropylene and around 95 percent of the water stored in these could be used for watering trees and firefighting.

Workers at the underground reservoir built by the Japanese firm Sekisui on Vo Van Ngan Street, Thu Duc District in 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Anh

Workers at the underground reservoir built by the Japanese firm Sekisui on Vo Van Ngan Street, Thu Duc District in 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Anh.

Japanese firm Sekisui Chemical Co. worked with a partner in Vietnam to build the first underground reservoir in the city in Thu Duc’s Vo Van Ngan Street under a pilot scheme.

The VND1.5 billion (64,700) underground reservoir is 10 meters long, nine meters wide and 2.5 meters deep. However, even with a capacity of more than 100 cubic meters, the reservoir has failed to save Vo Van Ngan from flooding.

Ho Long Phi, former director of the Center for Water Management and Climate Change at the Vietnam National University HCMC, said such reservoirs do help collect water and slow the flow of water into the drainage system.

"But just one small underground reservoir on Vo Van Ngan Street cannot have a significant impact on reducing floods in that area," he said.

The city’s Urban Infrastructure Construction Investment Projects Management Unit has said that the district will launch several anti-flooding projects in the coming months, including one to upgrade a drainage system on the four streets around Thu Duc Market, including To Ngoc Van. It will also have the Cau Ngang Canal dredged to improve water flow.

For almost two decades, urban flooding has been a major headache for HCMC, and no comprehensive solution has been identified yet.

The city’s development plan before 1975 was designed for around 2 million residents but that population has risen to 13 million, excluding migrants, and yet the drainage system has not been upgraded.

Experts have noted that the drainage plans being used now are outdated. They have also warned that without a sea change in flood-fighting efforts, the current situation will continue and even worsen.

 
 
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