Ho Chi Minh City Residents Fed Up with Flawed Flood-Control Projects

2013-09-19
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A woman pushes her motorbike along a flooded street in Ho Chi Minh City, Sept. 2013.
A woman pushes her motorbike along a flooded street in Ho Chi Minh City, Sept. 2013.
RFA

Heavy rains that turned the streets of southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City into small rivers last week have prompted complaints from residents and netizens about the sluggishness of the city’s flood-mitigation programs.

Some 70.5 billion dong (about U.S. $3 million) has been spent on flood prevention in the commercial capital since the beginning of the year, but residents say it has had little effect on fixing the chronic problem.

Residents of the low-lying city, which is crisscrossed with rivers and canals, complain that projects aimed at improving drainage systems and renovating canals lack coordination or are not completed on schedule, swallowing up resources.

The local government is carrying out a project to eliminate 31 flood-prone areas within the city by 2014, but residents say it is moving too slowly.

“Work has been carried out ploddingly since the end of last year’s rainy season but completion is scheduled for the end of 2014!” one netizen with the username Nnguoi Saigon said.

“No way should people in the area have to soak in the sullied water for more than one more year.”

Sometimes, a flood-mitigation project carried out in one area requires drainage systems in another area to be blocked off, worsening the problem there, residents said.

"Why are they blocking the outlet sluice for construction work without having a backup contingency plan?” Nnguoi Saigon asked.

Sluices are passages for water to flow through with a gate for controlling the flow.

Inundated streets

So far no devastating flood disaster has struck Ho Chi Minh City, but heavy rains can leave the streets under inches of water, and the Asian Development Bank warned this year that the city could face a flooding catastrophe in the coming decades if flood defenses and infrastructure aren’t developed.

After heavy rains last week in the peak of the May-October rainy season, Ho Chi Minh City residents waded through inundated streets, pushing their motorbikes through water that was above their knees.

Some residents said they were tired of the constant flow of projects that the government says can help contain the problem.

"Making sewers, digging for sewers, fixing sewers .... It’s all year round but still there is flooding,” netizen Lam Vien said.

“Huge amounts of money are wasted, but still there’s flooding and we cannot say when will be the end of it.”

Netizen Hoang Son said he wanted funds allocated for the city’s planned metro system, slated to open in 2017-2018, spent on flood defense measures instead.

"There are huge piles of money for the metro project, while the streets are degrading so severely. Any rain means flooding, so why don't they use the money for upgrading the streets to reduce the people’s misery?"

Experts say the problem is exacerbated by a rise in population and a property-building boom that has spilled over into flood-prone parts of the city.

The government is promoting a plan to build a system of ring dykes around the city, and a Dutch consultancy has proposed a smaller-scale dyke plan they say is more feasible.

One netizen joked that the flooding problem was so daunting the city should use it to its advantage.

"It's good to return to nature like this, when you’ve got rivers appearing right in the streets,” Nguyen Thanh said.

“Italy’s Venice is no match for our city. One day when we have our metro system, we’ll be famous worldwide for having trains that run under water,” he said.

Reported by Chan Nhu for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Long. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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