“During one flood, I lost between 300 and 400 orange trees, depriving my family of a large amount of income. When the roads would erode, we weren’t even able to leave the house.”
Can Tho could be called the ‘Venice of Vietnam.’ Built around an extensive canal system, this low-lying city depends on its waterways for much of its commerce. However, in the past few years, many residents have been experiencing difficulties due to rising sea levels and flooding.
“In 2006, we faced a big erosion problem,” says Suong, a resident and leader of the An Binh community. “Flooding eroded about eight to ten meters of land, making it hard for people to use the roads to get to work or school. It damaged the older homes and made many farmers leave their land to become laborers.”
In the past, the community of over 4,000 people in An Binh had temporary ways of dealing with the flooding, but with the increasing water levels, and increasing frequency of flooding incidents, these methods are no longer effective. Almost 120 low-income homes are becoming vulnerable to floods.
Nguyen Can Chau, a farmer and fisherman, fears that any barriers he tries to put up will be washed away. “Sometimes, it would flood twice a day, coming into our homes, into our farms, and we’d have to use an electric pump to get the water out,” he recalls. “During one flood, I lost between 300 and 400 orange trees, depriving my family of a large amount of income. When the roads would erode, we weren’t even able to leave the house.”
The Climate Change Coordination Office (CCCO), one of the local partners of The Rockefeller Foundation under its Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) initiative, has been working with the local community and government officials to prepare for further challenges by conducting community meetings on climate change, flooding, and erosion.
Ky Quang Vinh, head of the CCCO, details a three-part strategy for creating a more resilient Can Tho. “The first aspect is that the people must be healthy and knowledgeable about the situation in their city,” he explains. “Secondly, the infrastructure is important.”
The communities have been trying to use natural barriers, like mangrove and bamboo trees, to slow the erosion. These inexpensive and traditional methods have proven to be effective, and much quicker to implement than concrete.
The last aspect he identifies is good policy that promotes harmonious cooperation between all stakeholders and input from the local communities. “This is highly critical because climate change as an issue is new in Vietnam and people don’t entirely understand their responsibilities. The reality is that we are all affected by climate change, so we need to work together,” says Vinh.
“Ordinary citizens have become stakeholders in setting up more resilient construction.”
While it is still early in the project, one of its most notable outcomes so far has been the way the community has banded together to protect its land.
Huynh Ha Nhi, the vice chairman of the People’s Committee in An Binh, who has led the project, remarks on how engaged people have become with this work. “We are using our local knowledge to voice our opinions in meetings,” he stresses. “Ordinary citizens have become stakeholders in setting up more resilient construction. Having support from the local government has also given us new information, as well as strong building materials.”
Nhi adds that by using their own labor, it’s possible for community members to maintain these barriers. “The difference they’ll make is plain to see.”