Rapid growth could cost Vietnam's coast dear: World Bank

By Phan Anh   October 23, 2020 | 04:55 pm PT
Rapid growth could cost Vietnam's coast dear: World Bank
A restaurant on Cua Dai Beach of central Quang Nam Province is demolished by waves and coastal erosion, October 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Dac Thanh.
Rapid urbanization and economic development can intensify natural disaster risks for Vietnam's coastline and wipe billions of dollars off its economic growth over the next decade.

A report released Wednesday notes that Vietnam’s coastline, despite being among the most exposed to natural hazards like storms, floods and erosion, also hosts thriving economic sectors that provide livelihoods for a growing and rapidly urbanizing population.

The report, titled "Resilient Shores," is a collaboration between the Vietnamese government, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

While development continues to concentrate along the coast, flood risks in high-growth areas are twice as high as in low-growth areas, meaning key economic sectors that create the foundation for future development and prosperity face significant disaster risks, the report warns.

Around 11.8 million people in coastal provinces face the threat of intense flooding, and over 35 percent of settlements are located on eroding coastlines. Each year, an average of $852 million, or 0.5 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, along with around 316,000 jobs in sectors like agriculture, aquaculture and tourism, are at risk from riverine and coastal flooding.

Public facilities and infrastructure like hospitals and schools are exposed as well, compromising their ability to provide critical services when they’re needed most.

Despite much progress over the past decade, Vietnam’s risk management scheme still faces significant challenges, including fragmented and incomplete risk information and ineffective regulation enforcement.

For example, two-thirds of Vietnam’s embankment system, stretching over 2,659 km, does not meet prescribed safety standards, the report says.

"If the current trends of rapid economic development in high-risk areas continue, disaster losses are bound to increase," Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam, said in a press release.

Delaying action by 10 years could expose an additional $4.3 billion of economic growth to natural shocks, the report warns.

For Vietnam’s coastal regions to fulfill their potential as engines for socioeconomic growth while insulating themselves from natural disaster risks, the government needs a concrete action plan to be rolled out immediately.

The report identifies five strategic areas of great importance: the establishment of openly accessible natural disaster databases to strengthen data and decision-making tools; factoring risks in spatial planning; upgrading infrastructural and public service assets to improve their resilience; tapping into the ecosystem’s natural protective function and economic contribution; and improving disaster response capacity through early warning systems, social safety nets and comprehensive risk financing.

"To ensure the sustainable development of Vietnam’s coastal zones, we cannot ignore the challenges of natural shocks and climate change. To secure prosperity, we must invest in resilience," the release cited Tran Quang Hoai, Director General of the Vietnam Disaster Management Authority, as saying.

For the past two weeks, central Vietnam has been facing torrential rains and sustained flooding, causing widespread loss of human life and infrastructure, with the losses termed as being the "worst in five years" by government officials.

At least 117 people have lost their lives in severe flooding and landslides, and over 170,000 houses in Ha Tinh, Quang Binh and Quang Tri provinces are submerged, according to the Central Steering Committee for Natural Disaster Prevention and Control.

The government said Thursday it has decided to grant VND500 billion ($21.52 million) to the five worst-hit central provinces, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri, Thua Thien-Hue and Quang Nam, to promote rescue efforts and provide social welfare support. South Korea, the U.S. and several international organizations have also pledged donations of cash and disaster relief to help the region.

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