Vietnam needs natural disaster strategy after $2 bln in damage caused last year - PM

By Ho Binh Minh   April 18, 2017 | 03:05 am PT
Damage caused by natural disasters trimmed about 1 percent off Vietnam's gross domestic product in 2016.

Vietnam should develop a plan to combine its internal strengths with international support to mitigate against natural disasters that have put a brake on one of the world's fastest growing economies, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said.

Last year, 264 people were killed or went missing in floods, storms and landslides. The El Nino weather phenomenon triggered the worst drought and salination in decades, severely damaging the agriculture, forestry and seafood industries and curbing the sector's annual growth at 1.36 percent, the slowest rate since 2011. 

The Southeast Asian nation's economy expanded 6.21 percent last year, the slowest pace since 2014.

Vietnam should make more proactive preparations before floods and storms hit, after suffering "repeated natural disasters and severe damage" in 2016, Phuc told a government meeting on Monday to assess anti-disaster work and lay out measures to cope with adverse weather this year.

"Floods, fires and explosions must be regarded as enemies," Phuc was quoted by the government's online Baochinhphu site as saying, pointing to damage that cost nearly $2 billion last year, or nearly 1 percent of Vietnam's gross domestic product.

Vietnam experienced 10 storms and seven tropical depressions developing off its long coastline in 2016, six of which made landfall causing floods, erosion and landslides in many locations.

However, a possible return of El Nino in the second half of 2017 might reduce typhoons and tropical depressions but would make them less predictable, it said. This year, up to 15 typhoons and tropical depressions are forecast to develop in Vietnamese waters, and three to four of them are likely to make landfall in central Vietnam, the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting said in its report for the May-October rainy season. 

Vietnam should base its anti-disaster plan on prevention and increase its ability to cope with the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels and other extreme weather changes. Forecasting and search and rescue missions also need to improve, Phuc told government officials.

Deputy Prime Minister Trinh Dinh Dung has asked the environment ministry to map locations at high risk of landslides and flash floods, with priority given to northern mountainous provinces, the government newspaper said. 

Vietnam is the world's largest producer and exporter of robusta beans, and last year's drought trimmed output in the Central Highlands coffee belt.

The country is also the world's third-biggest rice exporter after India and Thailand. Salination that hit the Mekong Delta food basket in 2016 also damaged rice, fruit and shrimp farming.

Last year, the United Nations worked with the Vietnamese government on an urgent relief program to help people in 18 disaster-hit provinces, said Kamal Malhotra, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Vietnam.

In October 2016, the UN and the government put forward a plan to mitigate the damage caused by drought, which involved a $368 million investment this year to ensure the country's recovery and resistance capacity, he told VietnamPlus in an interview.

UN agencies are committed to working closely with Vietnam on disaster relief and capacity building, Malhotra said. 

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