In Vietnam and elsewhere, ‘disaster capitalism’ is at play

By Dang Hung Vo   September 19, 2018 | 05:54 pm PT
Nature and the poor are paying the price for profits earned by the rich.
Dang Hung Vo,  former Deputy Minister of Vietnams Natural Resources and Environment

Dang Hung Vo, former Deputy Minister of Vietnam's Natural Resources and Environment

There is a Vietnamese folk tale about an old couple who lived in northern Vietnam for 30 years, overcoming together two big storms and five big floods.

Though it is a folk tale, its details are drawn from true experiences of northerners.

In the modern world, that tale can never be true.

The north and north central regions just suffered two storms in two consecutive months, Son Tinh in July and Bebinca in August. The two entered Vietnam almost on the same route, triggering heavy rains in the entire northern and central northern regions, leading to flashfloods and landslides in the northern uplands and then serious flooding in the capital city of Hanoi.

Those days when it was raining cats and dogs in Hanoi, I was stuck at home. I could not even call a cab and even if I could, traffic was paralyzed because of the floods.

Those days, I slept on many thoughts.

I watched TV to catch up on news about the two storms. What I saw was the serious damage they caused for my people. Hundreds of houses were washed away, dozens of people were killed or missing. All of these tragedies happened in the uplands, where residents are still mired in poverty. And most of the victims were children, the elderly, women, and weaker people.

It was heartbreaking for me to see house after house being swept away by the floods or collapsed by landslides. Just imagine that those houses were ours, and that we lost everything, including our loved ones. How our life would be, then?

In the south, the Mekong Delta - the nation’s rice bowl, is also at risk.

The seasonal floods are happening much sooner than normal, and a large amount of the water came from the collapse of a partially-constructed hydropower dam in the Mekong’s upper reaches in Laos in July.

Farmers have lost their crops and seen their houses being threatened or washed away by floods. Erosion and subsidence have happened at more than one place in the delta and once again, it is the poor that lose the most.

On the contrary, the southern-central and Central Highlands regions have been dealing with drought. Locals here have been wishing for just a few drops of rain to save their farms and cattle. And as the rain does not come, they have dug deeper and deeper into the ground to get water and the level of underground water keeps dropping, guaranteeing no stable future for the regions’ residents.

The Law on Natural Disaster Prevention and Control lists the types of natural disasters in Vietnam: “storm, tropical depression, tornado, lightning, heavy rain, flooding, flash floods, floods, landslides, subsidence, rising water, salt intrusion, heat, drought, cold, hail, earthquake, tsunami and others.”

It is understandable that nature is to blame for the disasters, but the imbalance of the ecosystem caused by humans should be taken into serious consideration.

The world has been warned of climate change and global warming due to greenhouse effects for a long time, and in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio De Janeiro highlighted the dangers.

In fact, the effects of climate change caused by human activities have arrived sooner than predicted.

Storms, tropical depressions, heavy rains, and tornadoes are happening with greater frequency and intensity. Heavy rains usually cause flash floods, flooding and landslides, especially because the watershed forests are now completely destroyed.

A storm stands at a village in north central Vietnam as storm Son Tinh hit in July 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Hai Binh

A storm stands at a village in north central Vietnam as storm Son Tinh hit in July 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Hai Binh

Who profits, who pays

Greenhouse gas emissions are a product of industrial development, and it is the investors that have earned the profits from this. It is this pursuit of profit that has emitted greenhouse gases, which, in turn, lead to storms, flash floods and flooding that take away everything from the poor and the vulnerable.

And then there’s the overexploitation of natural resources.

Even if the ecosystem is left alone, it takes a lot of time and effort for Mother Nature to keep things in balance.

But now, so many people are getting rich by taking sand from the riverbed, draining underground water, excavating the earth for mining, and cutting down forests for timber, just taking as much as they can. Thanks to them, the natural balance that is so hard to maintain has been broken. And once again, everything that poor people have is either destroyed or swallowed by rivers.

We have to confront the fact that natural disasters have been taking place more often and on a larger scale, not because of nature but because of human action.

And it is the rich people that are irresponsible and unprincipled. And they are not in any particular country, but all over the world. And the poor worldwide suffer because of the actions of the rich.

The profits that the rich make have caused greenhouse gas emissions and ecological imbalances. The money that the rich earn is tainted by lives that “natural” calamities take and the suffering that they inflict.

Countries need people who know how to get rich. But they should do it in a responsible way that does not take away the properties and lives of others.

As for the authorities, they should realize that their direct facilitation of the rich has direct impacts on the poor.

*Dang Hung Vo is the former Deputy Minister of Vietnam's Natural Resources and Environment. The opinions expressed are his own.

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