Vietnam's Danang Adapts to Climate Change, From Boat Winches to Forest Restoration

By Thin Lei Win

DANANG, Vietnam, 14 August 2010.

The wooden trolleys and rusty winch on the beach may look like they belong to a bygone era, but for hundreds of fishing families they are essential weapons against climate change.

Here, at the tip of a beach on the beautiful Son Tra peninsula, just a 15-minute drive from the centre of Vietnam's booming city of Danang, people are used to natural disasters.

Fisherman's wish: A winch.

In September, typhoon Ketsana brought the biggest floods in decades with people saying ships appeared to be simply tossed onshore. In 2006 another powerful typhoon, Xangsane, devastated the area.

So when the Rockefeller Foundation, one of America's oldest private charities, was looking to fund small-scale projects as part of its $50 million climate change adaptation work in Asian cities, the fishermen knew what to ask for.

They wanted the winch to make it easier to drag their boats safely ashore on the wheeled trolleys when a storm strikes, said Nguyen Tri Dzung of Challenge to Change, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working with communities facing problems from climate change.

Rockefeller funded half of the $50,000 cost which includes training the community, said the Foundation's managing director in Asia, Ashvin Dayal. The rest came from city authorities and local people.

Danang, Vietnam's third largest city with close to a million people, is one of three cities in the country chosen for Rockefeller's climate work, which was launched in 2009 in four countries. More projects are in the pipeline.

Another pilot project, also costing around $50,000, involves restoring coastal forests and setting up a disaster warning system for 450 fishing boats, which were equipped with radios to receive weather forecasts and notify each other of incoming storms.

Dayal says these are very small projects, but for the vulnerable fishermen in Danang they could help protect their livelihood for the near future.

Development Complicates Matters

Vietnam, with a coastline over 3,200 km long, has been cited as one of the countries that will be most affected by the changing climate which scientists say could lead to sea level rises and more intense storms.

According to the government, the average temperature rose 0.5 to 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years while the sea level rose about 20 cm. The U.N's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said a one metre rise in sea level would affect almost one in four people in Vietnam and submerge 40,000 square kilometres of the country's land.

Danang is already vulnerable to storm surges and poor communities like the fishermen stand to lose the most from climate change.

"Not only are they seeing more disasters but the land they can work and live on is also getting smaller because of urbanisation, government policies and sea intrusion," the NGO worker Nguyen told AlertNet.

The city is growing relentlessly, with new golf courses and five-star resorts competing with ordinary homes for space beside the South China Sea.

"Before, people lived on their land but the government has moved them to other places to make way for urbanisation development projects," Nguyen said. "This presents another challenge if the poor are not well prepared for their livelihood options in the new place."

Impact Being Felt Now

Evidence may still be largely anecdotal but many villagers in Vietnam are convinced that the normal pattern of things is changing, "like the date when the rains start, cold periods getting longer and flooding occurring for shorter periods," said Guillaume Chantry of Development Workshop France.

His organisation is hoping to get Rockefeller funding for a project to help households run by women where the husband is away or dead, or has left. The women, raising children and short of money, usually do manual labour on building sites, Chantry said.

"By providing the technical and management training needed to run a small business, the main idea is to support women to strengthen or rebuild houses in poor urban areas of Danang and select some of them to become 'construction entrepreneurs' to organise work for other families and women," Chantry said.

Rockefeller is considering the project. Dayal said the Foundation would fund projects that helped improve the situation today, with climate change already having an effect, and also helped build an understanding of how that situation would evolve.

"For example, storm-resistant housing is a need now, not just something hypothetical that might emerge as a priority 30 years from now. And it's something that we know is going to become more of a need," he said.

This article was first published by AlertNet of Thomson Reuters Foundation.