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Managing droughts instead of floods in Viet Nam

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Author:
Rajib Shaw
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The Mekong River in Southeast Asia floods regularly and flood management has been an integral part of local people's lives for many years. But changes to the climate mean that the area now also experiences drought. Can people learn to adapt to droughts as well as floods?Research
from Oxfam Viet Nam and Kyoto University,
in Japan, examines the
recent droughts in Ninh Thuan
province in Viet Nam.
Rainfall in Ninh Thuan has been increasing for some
time, but there is greater variability from year to year. There are also
increasing demands for water, from the agricultural sector and the growing
aquaculture industry. These factors all contribute to droughts.
Droughts
have several impacts on communities. Farmers are worst affected, with droughts
causing serious problems for both crops and livestock. Droughts are often followed
by a loss of income and a lack of food for livestock. Women are more severely
affected than men, because water scarcity means they have to walk long
distances to fetch water. Children are most affected by the higher levels of
malnutrition that result from crop failures.
The
research shows that local people believe that they are increasingly vulnerable
to both droughts and floods, but most cannot identify the reasons for this. They
see responding to disasters as a community responsibility and feel that non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) and the government only act after community members have begun to respond themselves. Local people are aware of
long-term drought mitigation programmes run by the government and NGOs, but the
majority of people believe they have no role in these programmes.
Other
findings include:

Farmers have adapted by
using different strategies, such as growing new crop varieties and finding
new sources of food for livestock.
Local people have adopted strategies
including food storage, seed preservation and water saving techniques.
Strategies put forward by the
government and NGOs mostly focus on digging wells to access groundwater and
providing water storage facilities.
However, the increasing
reliance on groundwater means that salinity has increased and many newly-dug
wells do not provide drinking water.
Local people identified many
limitations in current approaches to drought management, including a lack
of knowledge about how to cope with droughts and insufficient means of
storing water.

Reducing
vulnerability to the changing climate in the region, both droughts and floods,
will require carefully-planned strategies for both mitigation and response. This
will require policies that involve the government, NGOs and local communities.

Communities should be supported
through existing social institutions and organisations, such as village
self-help groups.
Farmers
needs
more research and training in drought-resistant agricultural techniques.
It is important to measure
the demand for water by all sectors to learn how to close the gap between
supply and demand.