|Mangroves barriers reduce damage from increasingly frequent and intense typhoons|
by Cathrine Dolleris
With 3200 km of coastline, Vietnam will be among the top five countries affected by rising sea levels. CARE is working with coastal villages to reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
In November 2005, Typhoon Damarey hit the coast of Vietnam hard. The coastal commune Da Loc was at the centre of the typhoon and its disastrous effects: six villages were flooded, twenty-six houses collapsed and nine hundred and sixty houses lost their roofs. Two hundred and fifty hectares of land were salinated. Losses amounted to roughly 4.5 million U.S. dollars in this commune alone.
Typhoons are common in Vietnam, but the local authorities in Da Loc were taken by surprise.
"It's the first time we have had a typhoon with the strength of Damarey. It was serious beyond our expectations," says Mr. Tran Thang Canh from the District People's Committee. All the dykes broke in the heavy waves of the typhoon - except for the 500 meters of dyke protected behind mangrove forests re-established with support from CARE and the International Federation of the Red Cross.
Typhoons in this past of South East Asia are expected to become increasingly frequent and intense as a results of climate change. In response, CARE began in August 2006 to help Da Loc commune re-establish mangrove forests as 'living storm barriers.' Mangroves provide important shoreline protection. According to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), wave energy may be reduced by 75 per cent during a wave's passage through 200 metres of mangrove forest.
As a response to the destructive typhoon and in the light of coming climate change, Da Loc commune started to replant the mangrove forest with the help of CARE in August 2006. They had learned an important lesson: All the dykes broke in the heavy waves of the typhoon – except for the 500 meters of dyke behind a mangrove forest that had remained untouched.
"We understand the benefits of the mangroves to protect the village and the dyke. Because we understand how important it is, we are all very interested in participating in the activities that CARE can help us with," says Mrs. Bui Thi Din from the local Women's Union.
Apart from protecting coastal villages, mangrove forests provide important shelter for growing fish, mussels, oysters, shrimp and crabs. Mangrove forests also filter coastal pollution and provide timber and other construction materials to local people.
Community participation for change
To take care of the mangrove forest, CARE helped to set up a management system. A Community Based Mangrove Management Board was elected by the local people in 2006. In each of the other villages, a board of 20 members was democratically elected. Each household had one vote and the candidates were farmers as well as representatives of different organisations and the village authorities. Democracy is not yet common practise in Vietnam. This has proven to be a chance for the villagers to take their own future by the hand and become responsible for the protection of their land.
The villagers joined forces to plant and maintain 200 ha of mangrove forest with the support from CARE. Unlike many other mangrove projects in Vietnam this project was successful, because of strong participation of the villagers. They participated with valuable ideas and solutions on how to plant and care for the mangroves. They worked hard to remove by hand barnacles, small shells, which kill the mangrove trees. These barnacles cannot be done away with by chemicals, although a number of other projects tried this approach.
“The survival rate of the trees is about 80%. This is very encouraging and because we have learned to protect and maintain the forest in the right way, we have been successful this time,” says Mrs. Tran Thi Hue from the Women’s Union.
The villagers also learned more about the different kinds of mangrove trees. They first planted the Kandelia mangrove trees that like to live on wet land and with its roots make the mud firmer. After one year they planted seedlings of another species of mangrove, the Sonneratia, which the villagers prepared in their own nursery. The Sonneratia needs to have more solid ground when it is young and cannot be planted directly on the sand.
After their success was known, Da Loc village and its mangrove forest was visited by several research and disaster management institutions. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development invited the manager of the Mangroves Project from CARE to share experiences and
lessons learnt for 400 staff on how to successfully plant and manage a mangrove forest.
But the project does not stop there. The management board has been on a disaster reduction training course to be ready for another typhoon, including logistics, health care unit, clarification of responsibility and preparation of water tanks and food.
117 households are part of a group for improved livelihoods. Because the fields have become less fertile after the flooding, alternative incomes have been piloted like raising pigs and farming oysters. CARE has also helped to build a fresh water canal that flushes the fields destroyed by salt water with water from the river based on the community approach.
“Previously, at the village meeting only the leaders would meet and make the decisions without asking the households. I would keep silent,” Mrs. Vu Thi Hanh from the nursery groups explains. “The community based approach changed the way to make the decisions in our village and the people also changed their way to give more feedback to the leaders. Now we are confident enough to object to decision from leaders if we find them inappropriate and to make sure that the decision makes benefit for the whole community.”
This system has been improved day by day, meeting to meeting. It started with the government’s approval of the grass roots democracy in 2003. Mrs. Vu Thi Hanh knows that there is a slogan for the grass roots democracy: People know, people discuss, people do, people monitor.
However, the implementation of this policy was not easy. When the CARE project came to Da Loc, the manager could guide the authorities on how to democratically set up a management board with the participation of the people in the commune and transparency of decisions and budgets.
The villagers have no official rights to the common land. Now they have gathered to make a contract with the authorities to lease the land for five years. If they do well, the contract will be extended and they can profit from the mangrove forest and make sure it will keep protecting their villages in the future.