Being prepared

Le Huy Ngo draws lessons from his country’s award-winning programme
to prepare for disasters and reduce their impact

Global changes in the weather have increased disasters. People in many countries in the world are suffering from serious damage both to life and property.

The Government and people of Viet Nam have long-standing disaster prevention traditions and always bring them into play. From generation to generation, Vietnamese people have strengthened dykes, built flood protection structures, and applied appropriate measures for disaster mitigation.

In May 1946, as soon as the Peoples’ Democratic State was established, President Ho Chi Minh issued a decree to organize the Central Committee for Dyke Protection – now the Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control (CCFSC). The CCFSC has been increasingly strengthened to play an important role in disaster mitigation.

The United Nations General Assembly designated the 1990s as the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. In response, the Government of Viet Nam organized the National Committee for the International Decade for Disaster Reduction. The CCFSC is its most active member, and has the following tasks:

  • Developing programmes, plans, and measures for disaster reduction in coordination with other agencies, mass organizations, related social organizations, and science and technology research institutes.

  • Directing the implementation of disaster mitigation activities.

  • Coordinating with international organizations to increase cooperation on disaster mitigation in Viet Nam.

Since 1997, a number of intense disasters have caused severe ordeals for the Vietnamese people, quite apart from those that usually strike the country. In November 1997, Typhoon Linda hit the coastal area of southern Viet Nam, the country’s major aqua-production area, which is rarely hit by storms. It caused massive losses to human life and property. Thousands of fishermen were killed and thousands of fishing ships and boats were sunk or damaged.

However, under the Government’s close direction, agencies at all levels strengthened research and rescue capacities. As a result, more than 5,000 people were saved, and tens of thousands of others were evacuated to safe places and supported in stabilizing their lives. As soon as the typhoon abated, the Government took prompt decisions to help local people rapidly overcome its aftermath and resume productivity, thus reducing the damage.

In November and December 1999, two terribly heavy spells of rain inundated a large area of central Viet Nam, causing massive losses. However, the people of the area were supported by agencies at all levels in overcoming the aftermath of the floods and, with the valuable help of people throughout the whole country, overcame all difficulties, rapidly stabilizing life and renewing production.
The encouragement of the international community has been very valuable in helping the Vietnamese people fight natural disasters
Disasters again caused much damage in the country the next year. Severe floods occurred in the Mekong River system at the beginning of July 2000 and became the worst in 70 years in this populous area, the country’s biggest rice bowl. These – as well as a cyclone and flash floods in other areas of the country – caused massive losses to human life and property.

The Party and the State took prompt action to encourage forces at all levels to cope with floods and other disasters so as to minimize damage. The Government made decisive policy decisions for each part of the country, based on their geographical and climatological features and disaster conditions, as follows:

  • Northern Viet Nam: The policy is to strengthen the system of dykes and structures to retard and divert floods, to improve the flood resistance of construction, and to protect essential populated and economic areas.

  • Central Viet Nam: Central Viet Nam is narrow with complicated topography and is frequently affected by storms. Consequently rainwater is rapidly concentrated into floods. The policy is to supplement active measures for preventing and mitigating floods and familiarizing people with them.

  • Mekong River Delta: The policy is to prepare measures for living with floods and to minimize the damage they cause.

Despite the achievements of the last ten years, some problems still need to be studied further. With the direction of the Central Party and the Government, the CCFSC coordinates with other agencies at all levels and with mass organizations to carry out action programmes for disaster prevention to minimize disaster damage. It also acts as a consultant to the Government on preparing for disasters, responding to them, and overcoming their consequences – and in switching disaster mitigation activities from the defensive to the offensive.

When natural disasters occur, therefore, response activities and damage assessment will be actively carried out and the consequences of disaster rapidly overcome.

We can learn from experience in disaster prevention, response, and mitigation, both in Viet Nam and abroad, to focus on:

  • Improving the gathering of disaster forecast information, organizing warnings in a timely way, and taking measures in disaster-affected localities.

  • Mobilizing all forces from all social strata for disaster prevention. The armed forces, in particular, should be considered as a core in search and rescue activities, and in dealing with disaster-threatened construction.

  • Mobilizing the ‘mutual affection and mutual love’ spirit of the community to help people affected by a disaster in overcoming its consequences.

  • Regularly learning from experience after disaster to respond promptly, to supplement mitigation measures, and to strengthen disaster coordination to obtain high levels of efficiency.

  • Strengthening the system of information flow from central to local levels; strictly stipulating the regime for disseminating information to serve disaster prevention and mitigation.

  • Enhancing community disaster awareness activities; diversifying communications so that all people can understand disasters well and be able to respond to every situation.

  • Extending research into all types of natural disasters to find the appropriate measures needed to minimize damage; to improve the efficiency of the four ‘on-the-spots’ – directions on-the-spot; forces on-the-spot; materials on-the-spot; and logistics on-the-spot – particularly in rehabilitating structures for flood and storm control; and to enhance the role of the military, working in close cooperation with local authorities.

  • Developing a framework strategy for disaster mitigation for the whole country, based on each disaster zone.

In preparing for disasters, responding to them, and overcoming their consequences, the Vietnamese people welcome the encouragement, new technologies, and disaster-prevention equipment they receive from the international community and United Nations agencies. Because of this, the CCFSC and local committees for flood and storm control can improve their capacity to mitigate disasters.

Humanitarian aid relief from the international community, governments, non-governmental organizations and other benefactors has eased the losses and grief of the Vietnamese people. I would like, on behalf of the Government and people of Viet Nam, to acknowledge and express our gratitude for their very precious assistance.

On 11 October – the International Day for Disaster Reduction – Viet Nam with other countries and individuals was awarded the Certificate of Distinction for Disaster Reduction for the year 2000 by the United Nations. The encouragement of the United Nations and the international community has been very valuable in helping the Vietnamese people in their prolonged and difficult fight against natural disasters

Le Huy Ngo is Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Viet Nam, and Chairman of its Central Committee for Flood and Storm Control.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Learning from disaster | Being prepared | The way forward | Breaking the cycle | Flip-flop to catastrophe | Nature's warnings | At a glance | Competition | Insuring against catastrophe | Recreating sustainability | The legacy of conflict | Ask us, involve us | The poor suffer most | Through a slanted lens

Complementary articles:
Barbara Dinham: Getting off the pesticide treadmill (Food) 1996
Dr. Margaret G. Kerr: Profits with honour (The Way Ahead) 1997
Michael H. Glantz: El Niño, La Niña and freshwater resources (Fresh Water) 1998
Terry Donald Coe: Small is dutiful (Climate and Action) 1998
Disaster Management Unit - Vietnam
World Bank Vietnam