Flood relief necessary but post-disaster reconstruction vital

By Phan Duong   October 26, 2020 | 10:38 pm PT
Nguyen Thi Vung had to keep an eye on her sow for five days straight during the flooding in Thua Thien-Hue Province and lost three kilograms consequently.
Phan Duong

Phan Duong

She was worried the 80-kilogram beast might be swept away or escape.

The resident of a village in Quang Dien District explains: "Pigs can be really destructive if they escape. I did not dare sleep at night."

Central Vietnam has been hit hard by tropical storms, torrential downpours, floods, and landslides for three weeks now.

The woman, who is in her 50s, took the sow and its litter of four to her brother’s house since it is on higher ground than hers, and never left them alone for a moment.

With a stick in one hand, she made sure the sow behaved. But the animal was spooked and attacked her more than once. Vung has a wound on her right thigh from a bite.

But importantly she has been able to safeguard the family’s most valuable asset.

She had spent a year raising the pig and saw it give birth to four piglets. If she manages to keep all of them safe, and the animal continues to have more litters, she can solve the problem she has been facing: that of paying her daughter’s tuition.

Her daughter is a freshman at a college in Da Nang City, and Vung has to send her VND1.5 million ($65) every month for living expenses besides paying VND6 million a year tuition for the two-year course.

Since her daughter was in 10th grade Vung had been telling her, "I think you should drop out of school and work; I am not able to afford your schooling."

But the girl would plead: "Please let me stay in school so that I can have a proper career in future and build us a better life."

Vung relented.

Their family consists of just the two of them. Vung does the best she can, growing rice on a 750-square-meter farm and doing agricultural labor and menial jobs for others.

Every year in October she travels to the Central Highlands to harvest coffee and cassava for farmers there. But this year she has been stuck in floods described as the worst in decades.

Earlier this year, along with many other localities across Vietnam, Thua Thien-Hue was also hit by the African swine fever, an incurable and fatal disease in pigs.

Vung worked for other farmers, burying pigs killed by the disease.

"God blessed me and kept my sow healthy."

Now she has once again kept the sow safe through the floods.

But she has not been able to save a small flock of chickens and a cassava crop that had almost been ready for harvest.

All hopes for the mother and daughter’s future now rest on that one sow.

People in Dong Hoi Town of central Quang Binh Province move a pig to safety as flood waters are about to rise, October 21, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

People in Dong Hoi Town of central Quang Binh Province move a pig to safety as flood waters are about to rise, October 21, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

When meeting us in the courtyard of a government office to receive a donation of essential items from readers of VnExpress through FPT’s Hope Foundation, Vung cannot hold back her tears, and tells us all about her pigs and chickens.

The floodwaters have now started receding in several parts of the central region, including her Quang Dien District, and people are trying to pick up the pieces again after two weeks of living with the floods.

Vung is still at her brother’s house with her pigs since it is still not safe to return home.

Her 20-year-old single-storied house has deteriorated and its walls are cracked, and now after the floods Vung is afraid they could collapse at any time.

"More storms are coming, so I’d better stay here."

Storm Molave is expected to reach Vietnamese shores on Wednesday morning.

In Phong Dien, another district in Thua Thien Hue, we met Le Thi Sinh, 51.

Three years ago her son passed away, leaving behind a wife and two children. Her daughter-in-law works elsewhere and sends home money for Sinh and her husband to raise the two kids, one of whom is learning to talk while the other is in kindergarten. Sinh’s husband has a number of health problems and so she is the family’s breadwinner.

No one had foreseen such severe flooding. Like many other locals, Sinh and her husband did not have enough time to prepare for the disaster.

When the waters came, they packed off the children, belongings and grain to the first floor. They hung their six piglets, each weighing around 15 kg, from the ceiling, but one was swept away and another was killed.

The floods also swept away their flock of 200 chickens and destroyed their cassava and sweet potato crops.

Her grandchildren cried and asked for their mother. Then they asked for their father after seeing a man next door casting a net to catch fish. There was nothing Sinh could do except shed tears of grief.

Sinh still has a litany of problems to worry about like a loan she took to buy supplements for the pigs and chickens and buying formula and other essential items for the children.

She hopes to get relief from the authorities and plant a new crops and resume her livestock and poultry farming.

In the district’s Phong Xuan Commune, locals grow trees and paddy. In May Storm Noul destroyed grown paperbark and acacia trees, and now the floods have destroyed all the young ones.

In Phong Hien Commune 2,000 families have been living in the floodwaters. They have lost 250 hectares (620 acres) of cassava, 27 hectares of glittering chive, 25 hectares of sugarcane, and 15 hectares of other crops.

"There is nothing left," Nguyen Si Hiep, chairman of the commune Fatherland Front Committee, said. The front, an overarching public organization, is tasked with "promoting national solidarity and unity of mind in political and spiritual matters," and conducting many of the government's social programs, especially those to mitigate poverty.

Hiep said the commune administration is advising farmers to switch to short-term crops after the floods recede so that they could earn some income before the new year arrives.

There is way too much attention on flood relief though it is just one part of the big picture when a natural disaster strikes. Reconstructing the livelihoods and rebuilding the lives of millions of people in the central region is now a serious challenge in what has already been a disastrous year.

A World Bank report released last week estimated that 12 million people living in coastal provinces face the threat of severe flooding and over 35 percent of people live on eroding coastlines.

Each year an average of $852 million and 316,000 jobs in key economic sectors are at risk from riverine and coastal flooding.

In this context, I reviewed the concept of social capital. Economists treat social capital as an important resource of the nation. It is understood as the two-way and multidimensional cooperation between members of the society, the power of connection between people in a community, a country, and transactions based on mutual trust that bring mutual benefit.

The fact that Vietnamese everywhere are pitching in to provide succor to people in the central region these days is an expression of social capital in Vietnam.

The World Bank believes that social capital helps the community coordinate voluntarily and effectively because it is based on a common goal to help solve collective problems. The natural disasters in the central region are a collective problem. To address this problem, the government can collaborate with the community and make use of the social capital that has been on display in recent days.

Dealing with the aftermath of the floods gives the government an opportunity to tweak its policies. Authorities should make appropriate decisions to remove unnecessary barriers, paving the way for an increase in tolerance and trust, which would help heal the wounds caused by natural disasters.

A timely and substantial reconstruction plan for people like Vung and Sinh will help soothe the gaping economic wounds suffered by the central region, sustain growth and lead to a sustainable development vision for the country.

*Phan Duong is a journalist. The opinions expressed are her own.

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