Up close and personal in Viet Nam’s flooded central region
Over the past month, central Viet Nam has been hit by thirteen consecutive tropical storms, causing the worst flooding and landslides in 100 years.
Over the past month, central Viet Nam has been hit by thirteen consecutive tropical storms, causing the worst flooding and landslides in 100 years. Homes have been destroyed, crops demolished, and already vulnerable populations left with nothing. On 10-11 November, I visited flood affected communes in Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces and saw first-hand the devastating impact this disaster is having on three families, each with a heart breaking story of loss and resilience.
Ha lives in a rural commune of Ha Tinh province with her severely disabled 17 year-old daughter, Phuong. As a single mother of a child with a disability, she is unable to work and in the best of times, survives on a modest social benefit, a kitchen garden, and water generously shared by her neighbours. Ha’s single story house was flooded waist high over the course of one week of extreme rainfall. She is thankful that a rescue boat was sent by the commune and she managed to carry Phuong into the boat and to safety in the local evacuation shelter. Now, back at home, with little remaining and the garden destroyed, Ha welcomes the ceramic water filter and hygiene supplies we have brought. We share some moments of laughter (although I can’t really follow the joke), and feel hopeful that this family will bounce back.
 All names have been changed for privacy protection
In Quang Binh province we meet an elderly couple, Thao and Dung, hit severely by this year’s storm season. They recount their harrowing experience of flood waters rising in their simple one-room home.
To survive, they had no choice but to take refuge on a precarious loft under their roof (pictured here) – a space generally used to store rice and other provisions. The couple tell us they clung there for a terrifying 10 days, drinking the flood water around them and eating instant noodles. Eventually rescued by boat, they spent a week in the evacuation shelter, before returning home to absolute devastation. The exterior wall of their house had collapsed and most of their belongings were destroyed – including precious family memories ripped from their frames and washed away by the flood waters.
“We have lived through many storm seasons”, they recall, “but this year is the worst in our lifetimes.”
Down the road, in the same low-lying commune of Quang Binh, we approach a small house. Along the path are remnants of household items, plastic bags caught in trees and most heartbreaking - dozens of notebooks and schoolbooks bent over branches. It is still raining here, and the school materials, presumably put out to dry, are only getting more water-logged. Hoa and her two young daughters are waiting for us. Both girls are sick with fever and coughs, and have been so since the floods began. Hoa shows us their health insurance cards, and has managed to get the girls to the health centre, but could not afford the cost of the medicines needed. Her husband is a casual laborer, and the family, already teetering on the edge poverty before the floods, is now without a safety net, other than 4 bags of rice which must get them through the coming months. As we hand over the UNICEF water filter and soap, Hoa turns away from us – wiping her tears away.
Our mission ends at Ta Ninh primary school, where children have returned to their classrooms and are trying to move past the floods, which they unanimously describe in one word -- scary. They burst into laughter while explaining how they had to pee and poo during the floods: some in plastic bags, others in pieces of paper, and many directly into the flood waters. Their 10 year-old humour is sweet but also deadly serious. I try to imagine what it must have been like for them, and reflect on the relevance of our hygiene and sanitation messaging in situations where there simply are no hygienic options available. As the rain and wind of another storm pound the school windows, the children share their hopes, dreams and plans for the future – first and foremost, the hope that this tragic 2020 flood season comes to an end soon, and that life can go back to normal.
Watch the video of Ms. Lesley Miller, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Viet Nam, shares her impressions during a recent trip to Quang Binh Province where UNICEF is distributing emergency supplies to children affected by the floods and storms that struck Central Viet Nam this year. Miller speaks from Tan Ninh Primary School which was severely damaged by the successive natural disasters. During her visit, she spoke to several students and teachers about how they experienced the situation and what impact it has had on them.