DEVASTATING FLOODS IN VIETNAM IN 1999, 2000 AND 2001

MEKONG DELTA FLOODS IN 2001

In 2001, seasonal floods killed 385 people in the Mekong Delta. Two major flood peaks left thousands homeless. In October 2001, 222 people were killed in floods as waters in the Mekong Delta rose to levels that were dangerously high, but not as high as the previous year. A total of 182 of the dead were children. Tens of thousands of houses, home to over 1 million people, were inundated. About 105,000 people had to be evacuated.

In the midst of the floods, Associated Press reported: Seasonal flooding in the southern Mekong Delta, Vietnam's main rice-growing region, has killed 222 people, including 182 children, the government reported. The floods, which inundated 253,000 homes in the six provinces affected, have caused an estimated $45 million in damage, according to the Floods and Storms Control Department. More than 24,000 families have been evacuated to higher ground. An additional 20,000 still need to be moved because floodwaters, though now receding, remain dangerously high. The floods submerged 1,405 schools, preventing 313,000 students from attending classes, the Floods and Storms Control Department reported. To reduce the number of children drowning, authorities in the three worst-hit provinces have set up 681 centers to care for some 16,500 children whose farmer parents must go out to earn their living. Some 190,000 families in the flooded areas are reportedly in need of assistance, but only 43,200 have received relief supplies. [Source: Associated Press, October 8, 2001]

AFP reported in September: “The rains came later to southern Vietnam this year, but they arrived with a vengeance at the start of last month and have already led to the deaths of nearly 150 people. Forecasters have warned that the situation will reach its peak in the next few days and the flood waters are not expected to subside for at least another couple of months. They predict that the flood water level on the Tien river (the river border between the worst-hit provinces of An Giang and Dong Thap) will reach 4.9 meters from September 22 to 25. Apart from the immediate danger of drowning -- more than 120 children have fallen victim to the swollen waters this year -- the spread of disease, food shortages and a lack of fresh water all have the potential to exacerbate the problem. The late start of the floods this year enabled farmers to harvest around 95 percent of their summer rice crops but local officials have warned that the autumn harvest could be in danger. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 23, 2001 ><]

“In An Giang and Dong Thap province, all public service employees have handed over a day's wages to help pay for a stockpile of food. Le Van Quang, chief official in Tan Chau district in An Giang province, said the money was enough to pay for 20,000 tonnes of rice which would be distributed to the worst-hit families over the next few months. Thanh Tung told AFP that the close-knit nature of communities in Dong Thap province would ensure that no one would starve even when food is in short supply. "We do not fear starvation because of the spirit between the people," he told AFP. ><

“Last year many households lost fish which they kept in nets beside their homes when the flood waters enabled their catch to swim to freedom. This year many have now invested in nets complete with tops over their four sides. Donations from aid agencies such as UNICEF and the Red Cross have helped pay for three floating medical centers while a central government-funded floating water treatment station should stem the spread of water-borne diseases. But the nature of the flooding means that many people are unable to follow even the most basic hygiene guidelines. Nguyen Thi Hong, who lives with her husband and four-year-old son around a kilometre (less than a mile) from the border with Cambodia, admitted that the family was drinking water straight from the river. "It is hard to find dry firewood to boil the water," she said.” ><

Devastating Mekong Delta Floods in 2000

In 2000, flooding killed 400 to 500 people, most of them children, and caused $280 million in damage in the worst flood to hit the Mekong Delta, Vietnam's main rice growing region, in nearly 70 years. More than 48,000 families in the Mekong Delta were displaced. About 4 million people have lost homes, livestock or crops. Total damage has been estimated at $247 million. Heavy monsoon rains in July triggered massive flooding along the Mekong River, which cuts through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. An estimated 6.5 million people have been affected, especially in the southern delta regions of Cambodia and Vietnam. In Vietnam over 300 children were drowned or swept away by floodwaters as their parents sought to salvage crops. So many places were inundated with water local authorities found they had nowhere to bury their dead.

In October, Associated Press reported: “The death toll from the worst flooding to hit the Mekong Delta in four decades has reached 340. The waters which have inundated the Mekong, the country's rice basket, since July, said Do Ngoc Thien, deputy director of the National Anti-Flood Department. The victims include 287 children. Thien said there have been no reports of epidemics so far, but "the situation could be complicated after the water recedes." [Source: Associated Press, October 12, 2000]

From Cao Lanh in the Mekong Delta, Associated Press reported: “In Vietnam, 45,000 families have been displaced, many to cramped makeshift shelters atop crumbling earth dikes or alongside highways. Others have remained in their flooded homes, their possessions stacked on bamboo platforms inches above the water. In the worst-hit provinces of Dong Thap, An Giang and Long An, acres of lush rice paddies have been swallowed by muddy brown waters that have swamped low-lying rural roads. Water levels have peaked but won't recede until mid-November -- if heavy storms stay away in the meantime. Forty percent of the child deaths have been in Dong Thap, where about 95 percent of the province is under water, said Dang Ngoc Loi, director of the local disaster coordination center. [Source: Associated Press, October 11, 2000]

In September, Associated Press reported: Nearly 40,000 people from the provinces of An Giang, Dong Thap and Long An have already been evacuated to higher ground as water levels at the two tributaries of the Mekong river reached the levels of the 1996 floods that killed more than 150 people. In Dong Thap province, nearly 15,000 people have been moved from flooded homes, while another 30,000 are in the process of being evacuated, provincial deputy governor Truong Ngoc Han said. In neighboring Long An province, 15,000 people have been evacuated and more than 35,000 are being moved from their homes, the provincial floods and storms control bureau said Wednesday. In An Giang province, more than 8,000 people have been evacuated. [Source: Associated Press, September 13, 2000 ++]

"The situation is looking a lot worse," said John Geoghegan, head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Vietnam. He was speaking by phone as he toured An Giang province by boat delivering rice. "We visited 400 families sitting on the dikes as the rising water just ate it away. You could see it crumbling away before your eyes," he said. Money has been allotted for emergency food, water and plastic sheeting, he said. The provinces are bracing for worsening floods as water levels rise along the Mekong Delta, said Bui Dat Tram, director of An Giang weather forecast station. Levels will remain high through early October, he said. ++

Reuters reported: “The region was hit by early floods in July and August which damaged part of Vietnam's low quality summer-autumn rice crop. Traders estimated the total losses at around 330,000 tonnes of unhusked rice. A meteorologist in An Giang province told Reuters water levels on the Tien river were 4.57 meters, while those on the Hau river had reached 4.24 meters. The two rivers are branches of the giant Mekong, which runs through An Giang province on the border with Cambodia. Meteorologists use waters levels in An Giang to forecast how the rest of the 12-province Mekong Delta was affected. The An Giang meteorologist said water levels of the rivers were 0.37-0.74 metre higher than Alarm Level Three, which is declared when low-lying areas are submerged, river dyke systems in jeopardy and infrastructure in danger of damage. Nhan Dan said heavy rains early this month in the upstream and midstream area of the Mekong River caused water levels to rise quickly in the downstream southern Vietnam. [Source: Reuters, September 8, 2000]

Most Victims of Vietnam's Mekong Delta Floods Are Children

From Cao Lanh in the Mekong Delta, Associated Press reported: “She recounts it numbly: Nguyen Thi Hop's one-room hut had filled chest-high with water, so she went to get tree trunks to build a bridge to the road. She called her 16-year-old daughter, who was minding the baby, to come help for a moment. When Hop ran back into the house, the baby had disappeared -- fallen into the murky water beneath the raised wooden bed. "I don't know why I wasn't more careful," said Hop, 39, weeping as she recalled the death of her 1-year-old daughter, Bui Thi Diem. "Normally I watch over her with special care. I don't know why I didn't that day." The tragedy has been repeated over and over in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. An astounding 75 percent of the fatalities have been children, most under age 3. "The situation is tragic -- the more so because there is very little we can do to help," said U.N. Children's Fund spokesman Damien Personnaz. [Source: Associated Press, October 11, 2000 <<<]

“In most cases, parents were forced to leave home to find work, firewood or food, leaving children unattended, Loi said. Some young children also have rolled off their beds into the water at night. "We've tried to spread information through TV and radio, warning parents to be more careful," Loi said. But, he conceded, most parents have little choice but to leave to find work and food. In the provincial capital of Cao Lanh, about 100 miles west of Ho Chi Minh City, where most families raise rice or fruit trees, all the city's seven flood casualties were children. Congregants at the local Protestant church, attending service Sunday in flood waters up to their knees, offered prayers and donations for the family of a 2-year-old drowning victim. <<<

"About 90 percent of my congregants have had their houses flooded," Pastor Ngo Van Buu said. "They still come to services because during hard times, they cling closer to their faith. This is an especially difficult time for the parents who have lost their children." Children are also particularly vulnerable to malnutrition and waterborne diseases like dengue fever, cholera and skin infections. In some areas, the number of children suffering from diarrhea is up by 30 percent, officials report. <<<

Concerns About Disease and education During the Mekong Delta Floods in 2000

Associated Press reported: “There have been no epidemics so far, but that could change quickly. "We are very worried about the possibility of disease outbreaks when the water recedes," said disaster relief coordinator Huynh The Phien. "We've been distributing water-purifying pills and some medicines, but we don't have enough." At the local health station in the riverside commune of Nhi My, health officials report a 50 percent increase in the number of people buying medicine -- mostly cold and flu remedies, skin infection ointments and diarrhea pills. "I think that people also buy pills even if they are not sick because they worry that they might get ill later," said Le Thi Thuy Tien, a nurse who helped deliver five babies during the flooding. [Source: Associated Press, October 11, 2000 <<<]

“The most widespread impact has been on education. About 700,000 children have been kept out of school for three to nine weeks by the flooding. A few schools reopened Monday in Dong Thap province, where 340,000 students are out of school. Of the district's 500 schools, 486 have been flooded, said Pham Chi Nang, director of Dong Thap's Education Department. High school students were allowed to return first. The younger ones will have to wait until the end of the month because officials fear the danger of commuting in high water. <<<

“Students waded through calf-deep water to get to class at Cao Lanh High School. Senior Cao Hoang Huy, 17, left home at 5 a.m. for a two-hour trip by boat. Normally, it takes him a half-hour by bicycle. His house is still flooded up to his chest and his family lost their rice crop because it was too early to harvest when the flood came. The oldest of four boys, Huy is in charge of watching over his 9-year-old youngest brother. "We haven't dared to leave him alone. We're worried after hearing about all the drowning deaths," he said. "Someone is always watching him, even in the bath." <<<

Relief for Mekong Delta Floods in 2000

In October 2000, Associated Press reported: “Relief aid has been rushing to the seven affected provinces where the floods have affected more than 4 million people. International community has pledged more than $4 million in aid and the United Nations is preparing an appeal for up to $10 million more after an assessment team was dispatched to the affected areas last week. The Vietnamese government has disbursed VND75 billion in aid to flood victims while the public has donated more than VND44 billion. Nearly 800,000 homes have been flooded and more than 45,000 families have been evacuated to higher ground. Thien said 193,000 families are still in need of emergency supplies and 23,000 of the 52,000 most needy families have been granted small boats and fishing nets which could help them earn a living. [Source: Associated Press, October 12, 2000]

In September, Associated Press reported: “The government rushed emergency aid to the flooded Mekong Delta as rescuers spread out Wednesday to evacuate about 65,000 people, government officials said. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who is touring the disaster areas, has pledged 32 billion dong ($1=VND14,126) in government aid to four provinces. Two of the provinces, An Giang and Dong Thap, have declared a state of emergency. The first batch of food and water was sent out of a military base in Ho Chi Minh city, newspapers reported. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies issued a preliminary appeal for $350,000 in aid for victims of the floods and a tropical storm in central Vietnam over the weekend. [Source: Associated Press - September 13, 2000]

AFP reported: “In Vietnam two million people are without shelter and thousands of families face hunger and epidemics as they camp out in narrow dykes, according to disaster relief officials there. Rescuers are experiencing difficulty reaching some flood-hit areas and fears are growing of an outbreak of disease. The Vietnamese army has been called in to help with relief efforts. Some 200,000 people have abandoned their homes for higher ground in Cambodia, according to the International Red Cross. But with flood waters lingering, new fears have been expressed of the spread of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and diarrhoea, while others say the real disaster — hunger as a result of crop losses — has yet to be felt. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 22, 2000]

U.S. Air Force planes flew emergency relief supplies to victims of massive flooding in Vietnam's Mekong Delta, said a U.S. official on Tuesday. An Air Force C-130 cargo plane landed at Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhut Airport with 87 cartons of plastic sheeting, which can shelter 4,000 people, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Scott Weinhold. A second cargo plane, along with a commercial charter plane, arrived with two tanks that can produce 18,000 gallons an hour of drinking water and heavy-duty inflatable rescue boats. Both cargo planes came from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. It was only the second time since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 that the Air Force has sent specially tasked relief flights to Vietnam. The supplies from the U.S. Agency for International Development were part of a $250,000 U.S. donation, the embassy spokesman said. [Source: Associated Press, October 18, 2000]

Floods in Central Vietnam in 1999

A typhoon and a couple of bouts of floods in the central coastal areas in early November and early December 1999 killed 730 people. Reuters reported: “Former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet said damage from the two floods that have killed a combined 730 people was the heaviest the country had suffered since the decade-long Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. "These have been the biggest losses ever in Vietnam since...1975. The floods have been a huge natural disaster for the central provinces,'' Kiet told Reuters Television. Officials have put economic damage to infrastructure and property from the floods in early November at $250 million, while preliminary losses from the flooding in early December have been estimated at around $50 million. [Source: Reuters, December 9, 1999 <*>]

“The area is prone to flooding because of widespread illegal logging along a steep mountain range that lies not far inland. Central Vietnam does not make a big contribution to economic growth but boasts popular tourist spots from the former imperial capital Hue to China Beach in Danang, a favored playground of American GIs during the Vietnam War, and the centuries-old trading port of Hoi An. The region is Vietnam's poorest. Essential industry and agriculture are located mainly in the south.<*>

In September 1999, 22 inches of rain fell over three days in Binh Thuan Province, causing floods that killed at least 30 people. Over 100 fishing boats were swept out to sea.

Floods in Central Vietnam in December 1999

In December 1999, Reuters reported: “Soldiers mobilised across central coastal Vietnam to help victims of heavy floods that have killed 105 people and left one million in need of emergency assistance. Officials said the army was delivering food by helicopters where possible, although poor weather had hampered relief efforts in the worst-hit parts of a region barely getting back on its feet from devastating floods last month. Relief workers said while more rains were forecast, it appeared that the impact might not be as severe as floods that left a trail of destruction across central Vietnam in early November and killed 592 people. [Source: Reuters, December 9, 1999 <*>]

“Millions of people were still vulnerable and hundreds of thousands had already been evacuated to higher ground. An unknown number had been left homeless. "This is a double whammy for central Vietnam. Communities were only just getting their lives back to normal,'' said John Geoghegan, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Vietnam. <*>

“Officials in the worst-hit provinces of Quang Nam and Quang Ngai said there had been no let-up in rains. Vietnam Television said in a late evening broadcast that the official toll stood at 105, with 22 people listed as missing. Rescue workers have been unable to contact 1,000 families who live in isolated areas hit by floods and landslides, the Vietnam News daily said earlier on Monday. Parts of the national north-south Highway One and the main rail line through the affected provinces had also been cut. Relief workers and officials said rice fields only recently re-planted had again been damaged, while temporary shelters erected following the last floods had been washed away. <*>

Relief After the Floods in Central Vietnam in December 1999

John Geoghegan, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Vietnam, said hundreds of thousands would be vulnerable over this period because the planting of the next rice crop was in doubt. "Our people have been in remote areas and seen whole villages destroyed. A lot of people are in despair,'' Geoghegan told Reuters, adding he was worried by the prospect of fresh rains. Of greatest concern was the situation in Quang Nam, Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh provinces, he said, although plenty of food and plastic sheeting was getting in. The government was distributing rice and rice seedlings, but it was unclear if farmers would be able to sow the current crop of the staple on time this month. [Source: Reuters, December 9, 1999 <*>]

"People are getting the basics. What we have to ensure is that...we form a bridge between now and when their next rice crop is due -- whether that is in three months if they get the next crop in on time or in June next year,'' he said. An official at the country's Disaster Management Unit (DMU) said one million people needed assistance, such as emergency food supplies and plastic sheeting. He said the government was especially concerned about a key dam in Quang Nam province that had threatened to burst its banks. Soldiers were sand-bagging the dam, while thousands of people downstream had been moved to higher ground. Meteorologists said more rain over the next two days would lash the affected region, which stretches 650 kilometers (400 miles) from Quang Tri province to Khanh Hoa province and is home to more than eight million people. <*>

Relief After the Floods in Central Vietnam in November 1999

In November 1999, Reuters reported: Central Vietnam's worst floods in a century have caused initial damage of more than $200 million and destroyed or damaged 630,000 homes, official media reported. The Vietnam News Agency said 500 hospitals and medical clinics had also been destroyed, along with scores of schools across eight provinces, home to some seven million people. Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Dy Nien has appealed for more international aid to help put the poverty-stricken region back on its feet, the Vietnam News daily said. Officials said the top priority was to restore agricultural production following the week of flooding that killed at least 547 people and left dozens missing. [Source: Reuters, November 10, 1999 \\\\]

“Radio Voice of Vietnam has said around one million homes were damaged, while 185,000 acres of paddy fields have been destroyed or damaged across the region. Some 130,000 tons of warehoused food, including rice and corn, has also been saturated and may rot. Thousands of cattle and large numbers of pigs had been killed and some 1,260 fishing boats destroyed. Doctors and medical students have converged on the region to treat people and try to prevent disease. Relief workers have kept pumping aid into the area, but they have said the immediate danger of starvation has faded. \\\\

The day after the worst of the floods struck, Reuters reported: “Raging floods have killed 357 people in central coastal Vietnam, and the death toll and suffering is expected to increase with more rains. Officials said several days of flooding had left huge numbers of people hungry in seven provinces that stretch for some 350 miles. Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, speaking to Vietnam Television from the former imperial capital Hue, said 900,000 people in the province of Thua Thien-Hue alone were living in the open and had eaten no rice in three days. The province and its capital Hue have borne the brunt of the floods, with a total 230 people dead. [Source: Reuters, November 5, 1999 */*]

“Officials said diarrhea and fever had broken out in two other provinces, where rescue workers were struggling to distribute food and medicines because of continuous rains. A weather bulletin aired on VTV had only more bad news. It said rain from a low pressure system was on course to strike a large swathe of Vietnam, including the central coastal region and the central highlands to the south, where harvesting of the country's lucrative coffee crop is about to peak. River levels were still high and aerial shots showed large tracts of land blanketed in water. Officials expressed fears that disease would spread among those who had fled to the hills but were now living without shelter among chickens, pigs and other livestock. John Geoghegan, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Vietnam, said relief efforts would have to be quick. */*

Relief After the Floods in Central Vietnam in November 1999

Reuters reported: “Relief workers said Vietnam's rapid response to the week of floods that engulfed eight provinces stretching for some 375 miles had largely dealt with the immediate food problem. Official media said 535 people had been killed during central Vietnam's floods. Scores were still missing. But essential services were back in action, with electricity restored in the entire region and some roads and rail lines reopened as water levels continued to fall. [Source: Reuters, November 9, 1999 ////]

“John Geoghegan, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said plenty of aid was pouring into central Vietnam and that now it was important to become more systematic in distribution. He said emergency food supplies were reaching the most remote areas and that serious hunger was not a major worry. ////

"Without question this is one of the best responses (to a natural disaster) I've seen in any country. The Vietnamese moved quickly into operation,'' Geoghegan told Reuters. Relief workers said they were still worried about the threat of disease, but added that Vietnamese in the central region were used to flooding and would take care to boil drinking water. It was unclear how long the mop-up would take, or how high the damages bill would go from the floods. Officials have estimated property damage at around $51 million.” ////

Foreign relief officials said Vietnam was doing everything it could to get food into the worst affected areas. Giant Soviet-made lorries laden with noodles and biscuits had left northern Vietnam and were passing through drier provinces of neighboring Laos before trying to push through floodwaters and reach distribution centers. Prime Minister Phan Van Khai ordered that 8,400 tonnes of rice from emergency stockpiles be dispatched immediately, while in cities across the country, residents were coming forward with cash, food and clothing. The army, which has played a major role in the rescue operations, had repaired and reopened parts of the national north-south Highway One, VTV said. A Thai C-130 transport plane landed in Danang late Friday with emergency supplies and to pick up a group of Thai travel and airline officials who had been stranded in Hue. [Source: Reuters, November 5, 1999]

Floods in Central Vietnam in November 1999

In November 1998, Reuters reported: “ Flooding has killed at least 92 people in central Vietnam, officials said today. The deluge has cut the country's main highway in two and swamped hundreds of thousands of homes in one of its poorest regions. The death toll was expected to rise as reports arrived from areas where communications have been cut off by downpours from Typhoon Dawn. Damage was believed to be in the tens of millions of dollars. [Source: Reuters, November 23, 1998 +++]

The army, border guards and police were mobilized for relief efforts in eight central provinces. Authorities in the city of Danang used canoes to ferry food to 50,000 people in one submerged district and planned to drop instant noodles and bread by helicopter to another. Provincial health officials have been told to prepare medicine and vaccines to stop possible epidemics. +++

Stretches of Highway 1, the major north-south artery, were under three feet of water today, forcing officials to order most cars and trucks to stay in Danang. Only the roofs of one-story houses jutted above the water covering rice paddies that flank the two-lane highway. On the 20-mile stretch from Danang to the tourist town of Hoi An, curious crowds gathered at three places to see the bodies of drowning victims. Eight central provinces have provided families with $70 for each burial. +++

“Two other floods in the last month killed 69 people and caused $22 million in damage. Officials said the most recent flooding was the highest water had risen since flooding in 1964. Until mid-August, the region was suffering from its worst drought in at least half a century. +++

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

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