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Mangroves reduce disaster risk, boost incomes in Vietnam

Planting mangrove forests on Vietnam's coasts creates living storm barriers as well as rich new fishing grounds.

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra TunioAlertNet / May 17, 2012

A Brazilian fisherman searches for crabs among mangrove roots on the coast of Para State. Vietnam is actively building up its mangrove forests, both as a source of sea food and as a protection against increasingly destructive coastal storms.

Paulo Santos/Reuters/File

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Memories of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Damrey, which struck coastal areas of northern and eastern Vietnam in 2005, are still fresh in Pham Thi Tuyen’s mind.

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“The cyclone was [the most] powerful, dreadful, and cataclysmic event I had ever witnessed in my life,” recalls the 37-year-old rice paddy farmer.

But Tuyen and other residents of rural Thanh Hoa province feel more confident about withstanding future storms, thanks to a project that takes advantage of the coastal protection offered by mangrove forests.

QUIZ: Hurricane prep: Are you smarter than a storm tracker? Take our quiz

In the hours before Typhoon Damrey hit in September 2005, with winds of 100 km per hour (60 m.p.h.), nearly 300,000 people were evacuated from the coastal areas of Thanh Hoa and Nam Dinh provinces.

“We had no choice but to flee for our lives to higher ground, leaving behind everything, including our cattle,” recalled Pham, who lives in the remote coastal community of Da Loc, in eastern Thanh Hoa province, about 175 km (110 miles) south of Hanoi, the capital.

A storm surge ripped apart 3.7 km (2.3 miles) of dykes in front of her village and inundated most of the district’s coastal communities, including agricultural fields, fruit orchards, and cattle farms.

But in Da Loc community, one protective dyke, 1.7 km (1 mile) in length, survived the cyclone because it was buffered by thick mangrove forest.

“This was when we realized how stubbornly the mangroves can withstand tropical cyclones like Damrey,” said Vu Xuan Ngoc, a 33-year old fish farmer. “This was a key lesson nature taught us.”

Following Typhoon Damrey, and an increasing number of cyclones that have affected Vietnam in the last five years, a number of international non-governmental organizations have begun working in disaster-prone coastal areas of Vietnam, building on evidence that mangroves can play a crucial role in reducing the destruction from cyclones.

A wave’s energy can be reduced by 75 percent if it passes through 200 meters (650 feet) of mangrove forest, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme.

CARE International, a non-governmental organization working in Vietnam, has launched a project to help Da Loc and other adjoining communes re-establish mangrove forests as “living storm barriers”, said Nguyen Viet Nghi, a senior official at the organization’s Vietnam project office.

Quoting from a project report, Nguyen said that in Hau Loc district, where Da Loc is situated, the area of coastal land that has mangrove coverage has increased from 15 hectares (37 acres) to more than 250 hectares (620 acres).

The mangrove strip is now nearly 3 km (2 miles) long and 700 meters (0.4 miles) wide, with more than 2,000 plants per hectare. More than 6,000 people in the six project areas of Thanh Hoa province, along with a further 2,300 people in adjoining project areas, are now better protected against the effects of flooding as a result of the mangroves.

Da Loc is one of six coastal communities of Thanh Hoa province considered highly vulnerable to frequent storm surges, sea-level rise, intrusion of salt water, and drought, all of which are expected to become more serious threats as a result of changes in the climate and an increase in extreme weather events.

According to the Southern Institute for Water Resources Research in Vietnam, Vietnam has witnessed a 0.5 to 0.7 degrees Celsius (0.9 to 1.3 F.) rise in temperature over the past 50 years.

The institute says that rainfall has become more erratic and has increased by 10 percent in the northern part of the country, and that the sea level has risen by 20 cm (8 inches) over the same 50-year period, with an anticipated increase of a further 100 cm (39 inches) by 2100.

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