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Vietnam: Hasty development behind flood in tourist areas

Viet Nam News

A view of the Thai Phien flower growing village in Da Lat City, Lam Dong Province

Viet Nam NewsKIEN GIANG, Vietnam — It may be unusual for hilly areas and islands surrounded by ocean to grapple with flooding, but historic floods earlier this month in two of the nation’s best-known paradises, Phu Quoc Island and the city of Da Lat, sent local people and tourists into a nightmare scenario.

The natural and human factors that caused the flooding will require deeper analysis to understand how best to balance growth and protect the environment, but we can draw some initial conclusions. Architect Ngo Viet Nam Son blamed the floods on unsustainable planning of tourist areas that fail to leave space for water to drain.

“Not only Da Lat and Phu Quoc, but many other urban areas in Vietnam also ignore this important factor,” he said.

“The two tourism spots were submerged as a consequence of ‘greedy’ urban development,” he continued. “Concrete surfaces have sprung up for commercial purposes. Many have even filled up canals, ditches, lakes and rivers for business purposes and ignored spaces for water drainage.”

The island district of Phu Quoc in southern Kien Giang Province was hit by torrential rains that resulted in the heaviest floods in 100 years.

In the first 10 days of August alone, the island experienced more than 1,100 millimeters of rain, estimated to be equivalent to half the rainfall it usually sees in an entire year. Water levels reportedly rose up to two meters. All activities from fishing to tourism on the 600-square-kilometer island were paralyzed. More than 8,400 houses were inundated with more than 2,000 people being relocated to safe places. Phu Quoc Airport flooded and was temporarily closed, preventing dozens of flights from landing.

The total losses from the two consecutive floods on the island were estimated to reach more than 107 billion dong ($4.6 million).

The Central Highlands province of Lam Dong earlier this month shared a similar fate with Phu Quoc, even though rainfall was reported to be at an average level.

Although not exceptionally large, the prolonged rainstorms caused flooding of up to 1.5 meters in many areas, including the tranquil tourist site of Da Lat. The flooding led to dramatic scenes, with more than 40 people in Lat Commune, the Lac Duong district having to hang onto a rope to escape after being stranded.

Cam Ly Garbage Dump in Da Lat was one of the most seriously flooded areas.

Phu Quoc authorities blamed the floods on streams and water drainage facilities that were overloaded by the rainwater which accumulated over many days while the sewers were blocked by domestic waste.

Mai Van Huynh, secretary of Phu Quoc District’s Party Committee and chairman of the district’s People Committee, pointed out another factor that worsened the historic floods — densely-populated areas of new construction along the coast that stopped water from draining.

The island has been developing rapidly thanks to an influx of investment and is at the core of the government’s effort to develop the nation into an international hub for tourism and finance.

The plan to turn the country’s biggest island into a special economic zone sent land prices skyrocketing. According to experts, development projects have spoiled the landscape, blocked streams and rivers and eliminated forests that acted as natural water storage.

According to Phu Quoc’s Economic Zone Management Board, as of July this year, there have been nearly 300 projects with investments totaling 370 trillion dong ($16.1 billion) on the island. Most of them are real estate and resort projects.

Le Hoang Chau, president of Ho Chi Minh City’s Real Estate Association, said the Phu Quoc authorities had allowed rapid construction without considering whether existing infrastructure could keep up with the changes.

“As a result, there are a number of places where buildings are under construction even though there are no roads, water supply or drainage system,” Chau said.Speech

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