Climate refugees: How extreme weather is forcing people to move

Bolstering homes to weather storms

$41m project to help Vietnamese whose homes near the searepeatedly devastated by typhoons

At the home of Vietnamese farmer Nguyen Thi Muon, there is a mark on a window that stands 1.7m high.

Her husband, Mr Huynh Trong Phuc, put it there as a reminder of a 1999 flood when their entire village drowned under water in a matter of an hour. The mark is above his head.

It does not need to be breached for disaster to come calling.

Every year from August to November, people living along the coast of Vietnam's central Hue province pray their homes will not be blown or washed away during the typhoon season.

And the storms, locals say, seem to be getting stronger, the rainfall heavier and the waves higher, surging far inland and washing away sea walls, homes and other buildings.

Vietnam is ranked fifth in the 10 countries most affected by climate change in the Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index 2018.

Typhoon season can be deadly and costly, draining family finances each time a house or shop is damaged or destroyed.

"In the typhoon season, seawater rises up to our house. Water floods the floor, strong winds shake or blow the roof away. My family has to evacuate to our relatives' places," says Mrs Muon, 58, who lives in Phu Loc district, about 50km from Hue City in Hue province.

She is describing what she calls "the norm" of living in one of the most storm-affected areas along Hue province's 128km coastline.

That norm, though, is about to change for the couple and thousands of others in Vietnam under a programme to build storm-proof housing. The aim is to save lives and break the cycle of poverty that is reinforced by repeated storms.

HELPING COMMUNITIES ADAPT

It is part of broader global efforts to help communities, rich and poor, adapt to increasingly extreme weather and rising sea levels.

  • 4,000

  • Number of storm-proof houses planned in the joint project involving Vietnam's government, the United Nations Development Programme and the Green Climate Fund in eight provinces, with completion set for 2022.

The brick-and-cement houses have strengthened foundations and elevated floors as well as two levels. The top level is meant to be a place of refuge during floods and storm surges, and if the water keeps rising, there is a large window for evacuation.

A total of 4,000 storm-proof houses are planned in the joint project involving the Vietnamese government, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Green Climate Fund (GCF) in eight provinces, with completion set for 2022. It is a part of a US$29.5 million (S$41 million) project from GCF to help Vietnamese boost climate change resilience.

Mrs Muon's old house is located about 100m from the beach in Vinh Hai village and is vulnerable to flooding from storm surges.

Under the scheme, those chosen are from poor households in which women are the main breadwinners.

Vinh Hai Commune chairman Nguyen Huu says: "Mr Phuc has been ill for years and he is not able to work. His wife is the breadwinner."

Mr Huu adds: "We went through a public meeting and the villagers chose the households by themselves and sent the list to the provincial authority. Our commune has three families meeting the requirements to get storm-proof houses. The homes are about 85 per cent done."

Each supported household receives 12 million to 16 million dong (S$700 to S$935) from the government and US$1,700 (S$2,335) from the GCF through the UNDP. Moreover, these families are qualified to get a loan of about 15 million dong, so they can build a storm-proof house based on the UNDP design.

According to Mr Dao Xuan Lai of the UNDP, the cost of the smallest storm-proof house is 51 million dong. That means funds from the government (between 12 million and 16 million dong) and 38.5 million dong from the GCF are enough to cover the costs. However, the storm-proof housing scheme is flexible and allows families to adjust the house size by adding more money, such as loans from banks or family members, to build a larger house if they wish.

 
 

Standing in the upper level of her new house in Vinh Hung Commune, Mrs Nguyen Thi Loan, 60, describes flooding last year that badly damaged her previous home. The water reached above her knees.

She decided to get a loan of US$518 from the Social Policy Bank to help pay for her storm-proof house. No interest is charged for poor families for the first five years.

Mr Hoang Xuan Su, the commune's vice-chairman, says: "Last year, when Typhoon Damrey hit our commune, a bridge was broken, hundreds of fish farming boats were destroyed. We had to evacuate all residents living here to the public school and higher places."

Mr Dao Xuan Lai, head of the Climate Change and Environment Department at the UNDP Office in Hanoi, says the second level of every storm-proof house had to be higher than the highest recorded flood level of the local area.

"Walls and the foundations are enhanced by concrete and steel. Storm-proof roofs are tightened by bracing bars and there is a big window in the second floor from which people can escape in an emergency."

He says the houses come in six different designs for families to choose according to cultural preferences and interest, provided that the houses met the UNDP's storm-proof qualifications.

The roof at the old house of Ms Pham Thi Tuan, 47, was blown away in the 2016 and 2017 typhoon seasons and the family was too poor to repair the old structure. The single mother takes care of her daughter and elderly mother in their 20 sq m home in Phong Hai Commune, Phong Dien district, in Hue province.

She says the storm-proof house - which is built next to their old home but on taller foundations - could change her life.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 04, 2018, with the headline 'Bolstering homes to weather storms'. Subscribe