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Soaked but undefeated in Vietnam

Soaked but undefeated in Vietnam

Friday, November 27, 2020, 17:00 GMT+7
Soaked but undefeated in Vietnam
Staffers of a restaurant on the beach of Hoi An City clean up debris after Storm Vamco made landfall on November 14, 2020. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre

Now that Typhoon Vamco has passed, I can let out a big ‘Whew!’ and wonder if that’s the end of our horror storm season.

My problems during these destructive monsoon gales pale in comparison to the heartbreak, tragic loss of lives, and the scale of destruction unleashed across the nation. Cleaning up after two flood events outside my own house and then slashing down shattered trees before sweeping away the mud took the energy out of me. Getting sick twice during all this really put a damper on my usually cheerful mood. 

In the end, it did all get to me, compounded by the miserable and seemingly endlessly depressing news about COVID-19, the American election, and the slump in my income from Australia. I didn’t realize it at first, but I was sliding into a bout of depression, unwilling to get on with my chores and all those routines that keep us going even when there are other things on our minds.

The scale of the repeated barrage of storms seems quite invisible in many ways because I’m living in a relatively unscathed town, Hoi An on the central coast. Yet, to the south and the more affected north of where I live, there’s the harsh reality of more than 150 dead, hundreds injured, 6,000 homes roofless, hundreds of thousands of livestock lost, and a damage bill running into millions of dollars.

What helped me pull myself out of my slump was the community spirit around me of dozens of my neighbors all pitching in to help clean up each other’s mess. COVID-19 didn’t affect me mentally that much as I’m mostly a homebody and I have plenty to do around the house, including looking after two dogs.

Even the neighbors who would normally never interact with me came over to dig out the mud, clear the drains, and shift all the debris. I think the being active and contributing part helped enormously to get me mentally sorted out and busy again.

The thing that does still trouble me is if this going to become the 'new normal' in future years. For sure, I’ll have to move to higher ground next year but I'll also have to find a place a little bit less vulnerable to storms, strong walls, no big trees, a larger space for my projects, and plumping that works!

Actually, a team of foreign scientists from the World Weather Attribution group, according to the International Red Cross, is gathering together soon to ‘map out’ this season’s storms. They will use storm weather measurements, data from ocean temperatures, and other factors to determine if the recent extreme storms are related to climate change in order to identify if this is a worsening trend for Vietnam’s future. Personally, I have no doubt that this is happening already.

While Vietnam’s ability to deal with natural disasters is improving, the real problem becomes ‘catch-up’ – the ability to bring significant help, medical relief, food, clothing, and shelter before the threat of another storm begins to overwhelm resources and manpower. 

To the credit of many local authorities, people were quickly moved to a place of protection although landslides and flash flooding made this almost impossible in areas without ways to rapidly drain floodwaters. So this adds up to more relief work needed well into 2021, with the worry of another extended storm being a real possibility.

Fortunately, the Vietnamese have moved at an amazing pace to set up charities and bring supplies up to the hardest-hit provinces as the nation gains more experience in dealing with these situations. Well done, everyone!

The sorest point arose on social media as locals complained yet again about deforestation, logging, and hydro-electric dams releasing water too soon or too late. Already the national government is considering new laws dealing particularly with dam management. Will that be enough? Probably not – there will certainly need to be more education and assistance to help locals move away from logging and land clearance as a form of income; that’s going to take a long time.

However, I thought everyone dealing with problems this storm season did a remarkable job to cope and keep their spirits up in one of the toughest years for Vietnam, and indeed the world. I’m glad to live here.

Once again, Vietnam is undefeated even if soaked!

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Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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