Vietnam is one of the most typhoon-lashed nations in Asia. Every year, an average of four sea-born typhoons and many more storms wreak havoc on this low-lying country. In what may seem a curious pursuit for a humanitarian organisation, the Vietnam Red Cross (VNRC) has been planting and protecting mangrove forests in northern Vietnam since 1994.
The reason for its commitment to mangrove protection, which has included planting nearly 12,000 hectares of trees and defending them from shrimp farmers who want to hack them down, is a simple one: mangroves protect Vietnam’s coastal inhabitants from the ravages of typhoons and storms. These submerged, coastal forests act as buffers against the sea, reducing potentially devastating 1.5 metre waves into harmless, centimetre-high ripples. The mangroves planted by the VNRC protect 110 kilometres of the 3,000-kilometre sea dyke system that runs up and down Vietnam’s coastline. With fi nancial support from the Japanese and Danish Red Cross, it is planting four different species, which reach a height of 1.5 metre after three years.
The benefi ts are staggering. In fi nancial terms alone, the mangrove programme proves that disaster preparedness pays. The planning and protection of 12,000 hectares of mangroves has cost around $1.1m, but has helped reduce the cost of dyke maintenance by $7.3m per year. In lives spared, one need only look to the dividend reaped during typhoon Wukong in October 2000. This typhoon pummelled three northern provinces, but caused no damage to the dykes behind regenerated mangroves and no deaths inland from these dykes. In the past waves would breach the coastal dykes and fl ood the land of poor coastal families.
As well as the lives, possessions and property saved from fl oods, the VNRC estimates that the livelihoods of 7,750 families have benefited from the replanting and protection of the mangrove forests. Family members can now earn additional income selling the crabs, shrimps and molluscs which mangrove forests harbour – as well as supplementing their diet.
Over the last 50 years shrimp farming, coastal development and chemical defoliants dropped during the Vietnam war have severely damaged mangrove forests. But their regeneration is crucial. As sea temperatures and levels rise, more severe typhoons and storm surges can be expected. This could be disastrous for the inhabitants of Vietnam’s east-facing coastline. This risk has spurred the Red Cross to continue investment in mangrove regeneration, despite continued threats from coastal shrimp farmers and developers. It is just as well. Those who live inland from sea dykes are a little less at the mercy of typhoons and storms now. And they hope to keep it that way.
Press release issued by the International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent Societies in June 2002, the text is an excerpt from the IFRC’s World Disasters Report 2002 – Focus on reducing risk.