With three sides facing the sea and many low-lying areas that are easily isolated or flooded, the vulnerable island commune of Tam Hai is often affected by disasters and extreme weather. Located in the high-risk southeastern part of Nui Thanh district in central Quang Nam province, it regularly suffers from the combined impacts of sea level rise, flooding, storm surges, and saltwater intrusion, causing serious hardship to the local people.
Mrs. Tran Thi Lieu, 82, lives in the small Tam Hai hamlet of Binh Trung. She still can vividly remember her feeling of terror as one particularly powerful storm tore away the roof of her old house while thunder boomed.
“As the storm approached, the door kept slamming. My old house was heavily damaged, and when the roof flew off, my family had to hide under the table. Although we were evacuated safely, I was still very worried after the storm passed, because we had no money to repair the house,” Mrs. Lieu said.
Mrs. Lieu has no source of income other than support from the government. Her husband passed away many years ago, leaving her to raise their two young children by herself. Her son tragically drowned in 2016, and her daughter is married far away, so these days she is alone.
Living as she does in a coastal area, Mrs. Lieu is no stranger to disasters. As she led me through her dilapidated old house, her thin, wrinkled hands trailed along the cracked walls. Sunlight was creeping in through a row of roof tiles that had been overturned during a recent storm.
"This house was built 40 years ago, and now it's in very bad shape. The roof leaks during every rainy season, and all the doors are blown off. I was terrified.”
Perhaps because of the fear planted by those awful days of extreme weather, Mrs. Lieu never dared to think even in her dreams that one day she might be able to live in a spacious and safe house able to withstand the disasters that have plagued her for so many years.
However, since 2018, an initiative has been supporting the construction of safe houses that can withstand storms and floods and offer people like Mrs. Lieu some relief.
This so-called ‘resilient housing’ forms one component of the project “Improving the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities to climate change-related impacts in Viet Nam,” funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Government of Viet Nam, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Mrs. Lieu is one of 436 poor households in Quang Nam province receiving assistance from the project to build safe houses based on carefully designed storm- and flood-resilient models.
With a gentle smile, Mrs. Lieu slowly led us into her new home, her eyes sparkling with joy. This compact, light green house is now a safe place that will be able to protect her from all future floods and storms.
Her house is about 30m2, with a firmly attached corrugated iron roof that will not blow off in the wind. A solidly built set of stairs leads up to the 12m2 flood-proof upper floor, which allows her to take refuge from high water levels and has escape windows for emergencies.
She walked faster and led us down to her new kitchen, which is now is fully furnished with a rice cooker, a gas stove, and a barrel full of rice – a stark contrast to the smoky wood fire she had before. A small altar sits in the corner of the living room in memory of her husband and son.
Living alone is full of difficulties, so Mrs. Lieu feels very grateful to have received the support of the Government and the project to live in such a safe home. “Now that I have this new house, no matter how terrible the storm is, I can stay safely at home and go upstairs when the floodwaters rise. Now, I am not afraid at all.”
Another spring is coming, and happiness shines in the eyes of Mrs. Lieu as she stands in her dream home looking out over the familiar sight of the poor coastal village she has been attached to for so many years. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and the record-level storms and floods that Quang Nam province suffered in the fall of 2020, thanks to this storm- and flood-resilient house, Mrs. Lieu has been able to safely overcome an extremely difficult year. “With this new house, now I have complete peace of mind. From now on, I won’t be worried about running away from the storms anymore.”
Le Nga, Ngo Nga