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At a glance: Viet Nam

Mekong flooding causes widespread damage in Viet Nam

© UNICEF/Viet Nam/2011/Ly Phat Viet Linh
Nhan and her children, Khang and Khai, row a boat to their flooded home in An Giang Province.

By Tran Phuong Anh

AN GIANG, Viet Nam, 26 October 2011 – A relentless series of tropical storms and typhoons has filled the Mekong River to record levels, causing widespread flooding that now covers much of south and central Viet Nam in water.

The disaster has damaged over a hundred thousand homes, affecting 700,000 residents and killing 49 people – 43 of them children.

Hardest hit

One of the hardest hit areas is the southern province of An Giang, where nearly 19,000 homes have been flooded. Some 54 schools are submerged in flood waters, interrupting the educations of over 1,300 students.

“This is our house,” said a woman, pointing at palm-roofed house half-submerged in flood waters. Her children, Hoang Vy Khai, 11, and Hoang Vy Khang, 13, listen as she speaks about the family’s uncertain road ahead. “We don’t expect the waters to recede for another couple of weeks,” she continued. “Not much of our belongings were saved. We now rely a lot on the help we receive from the Government and other organizations.”

And disasters like this seem to be getting worse.

“Although local people are used to seasonal floods and disaster preparedness is part of their daily life, the weather has become more and more unpredictable, and we’ve seen an increased number of cyclones,” said Ho Viet Hiep, Vice Chairman of An Giang’s Provincial People’s Committee.

Alarming number of child fatalities

The Mekong floods have caused an alarming number of child fatalities, most of them due to drowning.

© UNICEF/Viet Nam/2011/Ly Phat Viet Linh
Flood waters in An Giang Province. Children urgently need clean water and hygiene supplies to prevent the spread of diseases.

“In emergency situations children, particularly young children, are the most vulnerable,” said Nguyen Van Nghia, a child protection expert from the provincial Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. “Many live in houses surrounded by water, and if their parents fail to keep an eye on them for just a second, they might just quickly fall into the water. The flow is currently so strong that it takes a few minutes to sweep the child away as far as a kilometer.”

UNICEF is calling for action to improve child safety, and is providing supplies such as floating bags, life vests, boats and buoys to protect children from drowning.

“It is very important to communicate on child drowning so parents are aware of the risks their children face,” said UNICEF Viet Nam Deputy Representative Jean Dupraz.

Urgent needs

Children face other risks, as well, including the spread of disease from standing water and unsafe sanitation. Their longer-term prospects will also be jeopardized if they are not quickly returned to school.

“While disruption of education for children must be kept to a minimum, children must also remain healthy during and after the floods, paying particular attention to water-borne diseases and poor sanitation conditions,” said Mr. Dupraz.

UNICEF is responding to these needs with enough clean water and hygiene supplies to serve 72,000 people for 15 days, including water purification tablets, bars of soap, jerry cans and water filters. UNICEF is also distributing school supplies including books and notebooks in flood-affected areas.

Still, additional help is urgently required, and more flooding is forecast for weeks ahead.



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