Disasters & Accidents

Ho Chi Minh City: A growing metropolis looking to turn a rising tide

By Eric San Juan

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Nguyen Van Thai, 71, is used to watching the waters rise on an almost daily basis during the rainy season, especially between August and October.

But in recent years, he has noticed it getting worse, despite the constant efforts to improve Ho Chi Minh City’s drainage systems.

From his tiny, 4 square meter barbershop in the district of Binh Thanh, Thai watches the waves caused by passing cars and motorcycles on the flooded road lap at the 40-centimeter-high dyke he himself put in place to stop the flooding.

“Five years ago it was smaller, but I had to extend it two years ago because the water was still coming over it,” he says, pointing toward a barrier of bricks.

“When I started my business 40 years ago, there were floods, but the water didn’t go so high. In the last 15 or 20 years, it’s been getting higher and higher. It also takes longer for it to go away. Before, it drained in 15 or 30 minutes, but now it takes two and a half hours,” he tells EFE.

Although acknowledging the influence of rising sea levels due to global warming, Thai believes the principal contributing factor is the boom in construction in recent years, which has degraded the city’s drainage capacity.

“We used to have a lot of canals here, but they have been covered over to construct buildings, and the water doesn’t have anywhere to go.

“A few years ago they repaired the sewer system and raised the road by two meters, but this street is still flooding. Sometimes it doesn’t even need to rain, the water comes out of the drains if the sea or the river rise.”

Thai’s on-the-ground observations coincide with the findings of a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, which warned of the increasingly high flood waters in a city where 45 percent of the surface is less than a meter above sea level.

“Urbanization further brings a reduction in permeable surfaces and increases the risk of land subsidence due to building, which has already been observed in the Mekong Delta region and could be as much as three times as significant in terms of flood risk increase as sea-level rise,” the report said.

The consultancy warned that Ho Chi Minh City, home to some 10 million people, was at risk of extreme flooding by 2050.

“The metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City can survive its flood risk today, but its plans for rapid infrastructure expansion and continued economic growth could, if not managed carefully, lead to an increase in risk.”

In the worst-case scenario outlined by the United Nations, which models a 180-centimeter rise in sea levels by the end of the century, two-thirds of the coastal city would be underwater, according to calculations. Only the center would remain as a “temporary island.”

The city, formerly known as Saigon, is used to living with the seasonal floods brought by monsoons and storms, which already costs its economy some $1.3 billion a year.

Although that cost has so far not stopped Ho Chi Minh City’s GDP from booming in recent years, the consultancy group said the price of flood damage could hit $8.7 billion a year if left unchecked.

Despite the pessimistic hypothesis, the authors of the report believe there is still time to implement the necessary measures to adapt to the floods and recommend relocating buildings and infrastructure constructed in high-risk zones.

They also encourage city authorities to improve the quality of buildings to help better withstand flooding.

“There are also natural solutions to help keep the water at bay, such as planting mangroves.

Mangroves currently offer significant protection from more extreme events, reducing the height of storm surge by 20 percent or more for every 100 meters of forest,” the report said.

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