A Vietnamese village’s uncertain future

Tran Thi Kim Lien reports on the threats to the communities of her childhood.

In one study in my hometown – a mountainous area in North Central Region of Vietnam, we considered Huong Lam commune – one of the vulnerable areas of climate change in Ha Tinh province. The commune is home to 6,673 people in 1,636 households with an average population density of 400 people/km2. Their main livelihood activities are agriculture, small industries, trades and services. Our study found that this commune faces risk from floods, droughts, cold and storms.

The most immediate impact of drought is a reduction and even loss in crop production (paddy rice, peanut, maize, etc.) due to inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall. Another severe impact of droughts is water shortages (Overseas Development Institute, 1997 PDF). Lower pasture production from droughts may also decrease fodder supplies. With little land available, the people cannot reduce risk through diversification (Beckman, 2011). The unusual dry conditions since the end of 2015 (allied with El Niño) have led to severe droughts around the country (IFRC, 2016).

The worst agricultural losses are from floods that arrive with typhoons. Floods destroy both standing crops (paddy rice and fruit trees) and stored food. They also increase fungal infections that destroy seeds for the next planting. Floods of 2-3 days cause serious health problems for people (in particular, the disabled and elderly) who live in poor conditions with limited food sources, polluted water sources, and poor sanitation (Few, Ahern, Matthies, & Kovats, 2004 PDF).

The author standing on a road that nearly flooded after torrential rains raised the river level by 2m.
The author standing on a road that nearly flooded after torrential rains raised river levels by 2m.

The Vietnam Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment projects that medium emissions climate change scenarios (B2) will increase annual rainfall by 2-7 percent by 2100, with less rain in the dry season and more in the rainy season. Maximum daily rainfall may double in the North Central zones (including in Ha Tinh). Typhoons can uproot crops, damage trees, and destroy housing and animal shelters (Few, Ahern, Matthies, & Kovats, 2004). Climate change will change the intensity, frequency and (un)predictability of storms. In Ha Tinh, storms that normally occur from August to October are sometimes showing up in April, causing greater damage due to their unpredictable frequency and intensity.

The people of Huong Lam will not find it easy to adapt.


Tran Thi Kim Lien [email] holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Forest Science and Management from Vietnam and Australia, respectively. After earning her first degree, she spent 13 years working in forestry and rural development in North Central Vietnam. Her Masters degree has widened her knowledge to include environmental management and climate change adaptation. She now focuses on helping local people understand their vulnerabilities and adapt to climate change.

Bacon for everyone

The future, writes Philip Ridgers, will bring some good with the bad.

It was early September 2060, and the town of Flotsam was literally in hot water. Tom Williams wiped sweat from his sunburned brow, peered down the hill at a small boat meandering among pale chimneys and mosquito swarms.

‘Poor folk,’ he said, as the boat receded.

‘Nothing to be done though,’ said Dan, his brother. He’d had the sense to wear his black cap that morning.

‘I suppose not,’ Tom replied. ‘Reckon they’ll be back?’

Dan did not bother answering. The Styles family needed to find cows if they had a hope of returning. Most of Flotsam doubted anyone within a hundred miles had come across beef in ten years.

‘Well good luck to them,’ Tom said. He wrung sweat from his brown factory sleeve and wiped his face again. If it’s this hot now, I dread midday. He thought the same thing every day.

‘I s’pose we should get to work,’ Dan said. ‘Pigs don’t kill themselves.’

They turned from the lake that had swallowed Bath a couple of decades earlier, and headed for the town slaughterhouse. Dan whistled as they walked.

‘You’re in a good mood,’ Tom said. He watched his footing, careful not to tread in the copious amount of pig dung that covered much of the town.

‘Well why not?’ Dan asked.

‘We just saw a family of four go to their likely deaths.’

‘They’ve got a chance. The professors gave them a month’s worth of insulin.’

‘Pig insulin.’

Dan shrugged. ‘It’s all we’ve got. Better than nothing, right?’

Tell that to Anne Styles, Tom thought. All three of her boys had grown resistant to porcine insulin, and their blood sugars were constantly skyrocketing.

Flotsam was primarily diabetic. Some doctors with type one diabetes had made their home in an abandoned MOD site, on the hill of what had been Lansdown in Bath. As the waters rose, someone found it amusing to call the place Flotsam. The name had stuck. They made insulin for themselves from pig pancreases, and diabetics had rushed to the area.

‘Maybe they’ll manage to get some live beef after all,’ Dan said. ‘Dr Shortwick can have the pancreases, the rest of us can eat something different for once.’

‘And the waters will recede, and everything will be fixed,’ Tom said. ‘We’ll walk down to the city centre like we did thirty years ago, when we were kids. Maybe we’ll even go for lunch at the Royal Crescent hotel cos we’ll be rich too.’

‘Sarcasm only buys you an injury,’ Dan replied.

‘All right, save that for the pigs,’ Tom said. They pushed through the doors of a makeshift barn. It was even hotter inside, and the smell was incredible. Men and women were already hard at work, herding squealing pigs into a large room.

‘Oi, Williams and Williams! You’re late,’ shouted Rick. The bald old man was in charge of butchery. Tom wondered why he bothered with a meat cleaver, his tongue could almost lash skin from bone.

‘We were seeing off the Styles,’ Dan said.

‘Grab knives, and use ‘em an extra hour past everyone else,’ Rick said.

‘Balls,’ Dan said, though not loudly enough for Rick to hear. ‘I want to get my Friday started on time.’

‘It’s only fair,’ Tom replied, picking up a long sharp knife. He joined the other workers, waiting outside the room of pigs. Someone pulled a lever, and CO2 stunned the squealing swine.

‘They get a comfier death than most of us,’ Dan said.

‘That’s cos the whole world’s gone to the pigs,’ Tom replied. ‘But they should enjoy it while it lasts.’ Like everything else, Flotsam was low on CO2.

A gong sounded. The workers moved through the doors and among the unconscious swine. Tom grabbed the hind legs of an enormous sow, dragged it onto a table with Dan’s help. He ran his knife across its throat, grimaced as blood poured copiously.

We need more aprons, he thought. He doubted his three minutes of authorised shower time would give him a chance to clean his clothes properly.

Soon, dead pigs were being hacked into their various useful parts. Dan started whistling again as he chopped.

‘You know what tonight is,’ he said.

‘Obvious statement awards night?’ Tom asked. It was the hour of power. Once a month, Flotsam’s mayor allowed residents to draw an hour’s worth of electricity from the grid for entertainment purposes.

‘What shall we enjoy?’ Dan asked.

‘I was thinking a film,’ Tom said. ‘We could invite Bella and Amanda over.’

‘It’ll cost us,’ Dan replied, chopping away. ‘Bella’s had three hypos this month. She’s almost through her glucose rations already, and looking for help.’

‘We’ll just say no,’ Tom said.

Dan laughed. ‘When have you ever resisted her smile?’

Fair point, Tom thought. ‘It’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll persuade her to see the docs, reduce her insulin dose. If she sits nice and still, she’ll be ok. I’ll do the cooking, serve up my world famous regulation bacon, sausage and cabbage.’

‘You convinced me,’ Dan said, his broad chest spattered red. ‘We should watch Toy Story.’

‘That’s almost an hour and a half long.’

‘We’ll just act the first part of it then.’

Tom grimaced. ‘Don’t you dare…’ he began, but it was too late.

You got a friend in me,’ Dan sang.

I hate that bloody song, Tom thought. Dan sang it about six times a day. However, Tom seemed to be in the minority. To his horror, other workers started singing along.

In barbershop harmony.

‘You’ve ruined it even more,’ Tom said. ‘When the hell did you find time to rehearse?’

‘Oh come on, it’s catchy,’ Dan replied. Then, he launched into the chorus. Tom tried to frown, but a smile tugged at his mouth. He had to admit, they were rather good. He hummed along in spite of himself. Before long, everyone was singing.

The heat gathered, pig entrails were everywhere, and music covered the town of Flotsam.


philipPhilip Ridgers is a piano teacher and accompanist currently living in Bath. When he’s not busy at a piano, he also enjoys writing. As a type 1 diabetic, it was a natural choice for him to centre his contribution around diabetes. You can judge him for his opinions here.

hourofwrites* This vision was submitted for the “Life plus 2m” prompt at Hour of Writes, which carries out weekly, peer-reviewed writing competitions.

The beach that ate Silicon Valley

Jennifer LaForce has noticed that the residents and workers of Silicon Vally treat climate change like they treat homelessness — not their problem.

Silicon Valley, California. You can admire; you can hate it. Most of the world’s leading edge technology either comes from here or is made usable here. Tucked into the northern reaches of the San Francisco Bay, you will find an old quai in the tiny towns of Alviso and Milpitas [now best seen at a local park]. Here the bay is shallow: 85 percent of the water is less than 30 feet deep. Circulation depends on strong tidal action, river inflow, winds and storms. From a wildlife perspective, the salt marshes are highly productive and very valuable. When the tide is high, many fish species forage for food along the shore. Once the tide goes out, water birds feast on those unfortunate enough to get stuck.

alviso_marina_county_park_view_at_sunset

Not too long ago, the Milpitas quai was a destination. Standing on the old pilings, a little imagination takes you on unday boat rides in 1915 or even farther back to a Native American fishing for dinner.

Now there is a new kind of production on the quai. Not quite sky scrapers, new commercial buildings full of valuable equipment and more valuable ideas indicate that the recession is over and Silicon Valley is pushing at the edges of its geography yet again. Water treatment plants responsible for most of the usable water in the Bay area dot the marsh shores. Highway 237 is a critical connection between continental California and the San Francisco peninsula, connecting the states two major highways, 880 along the eastern side of the bay and 101 along the western side.

siliv
Two meters of sea level rise will inundate the Bay Area’s coastline

A sea-level rise of 2 meters has all of Milpitas and Alviso completely underwater. Highway 237 will belong to the sea creatures as will much of Highway 101.

Such a sea-level rise will inundate both developed and natural areas, cause salinity contamination of groundwater aquifers and rivers, damage ports and recreational beaches. The cost of protecting against sea-level rise is large, but often below the value of the property protected. Preventative (“Hey! Don’t build there!”) and/or defensive actions taken today can prevent large damages in the future

Numerous studies have been done and there is no need to reproduce their conclusions. What is strangely remarkable about the rise in sea-level and the corresponding results is how we, as California communities, respond to it in almost exactly the same way we respond to homelessness.

Study after study, proof after proof – If you don’t know by now that it costs less to house a homeless person than to leave them on the streets, you just don’t want to know. Between jail time and emergency room visits, it costs about $30,000 a year for a homeless person to be on the streets. Add business loss, shelter costs and the figure increases to a staggering $40,000 a year. Guess what, they could be in a home for a lot less.

Perhaps because the costs are not easily seen by an individual or because the costs are spread out over service areas, we can’t seem to respond to these facts.

Likewise the value of property threatened by sea-level rise in Silicon Valley is extremely high because of past development and getting higher every day because of new development. Around the perimeter of the Bay, existing commercial, residential, and industrial structures threatened by a two-meter sea-level rise is valued at $100 billion.

Perhaps because of the slow rate of increase of sea level or perhaps because the individual can’t see it, there is little advanced planning and an inadequate response to these facts.

I’ve worked in disabled and disadvantaged communities for 30 years. I understand emotional response. I understand bias. But I have yet to figure out why my peers cannot step beyond both when presented with undisputable fact. If we could figure this out, we could address the fact that the sea level is rising without over or under reacting. We could address homelessness and probably every other polarizing issue. For me, that’s the task to undertake.


laforceJennifer LaForce is a Business Consultant in Silicon Valley, missionary, author & traveler with the grandiose goal of understanding why we do what we do.

Happy delta life

Lucas Janssen might move from nasty, flooding Amsterdam to raise food in the Dutch floodplains.

Interview from ‘Futurum Urbanum’ (November 2036)

Note from the editor: In the past months, during our ‘Futurum Urbanum ’ editorial meetings we came to the conclusion that we should also pay attention to developments beyond the scope of the metropole. Statistics show that there is a growing number of people that exchange their city life for a living on the countryside. This tendency can be recognized in the whole European continent. In the editorial board we wanted to understand why people make such choices. Therefore, we visited a small community in the eastern part of the Netherlands, where we had an interview with Mark van der Steen (44). Mark and his family live in Honderdmorgen, a community quite close to the Waal river.

FU: Why did you decide to move to Honderdmorgen?

Mark: At first, we lived in Amsterdam. It is the city everybody wants to live in, and so did we. After some years we started to experience that it was not really that great. First of all, we had great difficulties in finding good education for our three children. The situations in the schools were really bad and good teachers missing. And then, of course, there were the climate effects. During summer, every two weeks we had a flooding leading to a total congestion of the city. The summer heat and the growing number of insects made it hard to be outside.

FU: How did you end up here?

Mark: Well, we were scanning the various options in the Dutch countryside as we wanted to make a living in production of high quality food. In this area the prices had significantly dropped because of the expectations of continuous flooding from the Rhine, or Waal as this branch is called. There were a lot of deserted houses. Hence, the prices were low and we decided to take a chance. Apart from the lower areas there are also some higher grounds in this area.

FU: And how did it work out?

Mark: In the end it worked out quite well! We are here now for almost eight years. We have a real nice community of nine families that make a living with the production of food and we have been able to organise the education for our children. In terms of flooding, after a couple of years it turned out differently. Germany introduced their ‘Wasserwende’. They started retaining their water by building large reservoirs and infiltration works. As a result, we have not been flooded since we are here. Actually, we need to take various measures to have sufficient water to farm here such as closed reservoirs. One of the unexpected is that truffles are growing in the higher located forests.

FU: So what is it actually that you make a living with?

Mark: There is quite a large group of people in cities that want high quality foods. We produce a wide variety of meat, vegetables and fruits. The vegetables and fruits are of course seasonal; the meat is sold continuously. We raise the ‘Roman Roosters’, which are sold in cities across the border as well. Chefs like the meat of our roosters because of its intense taste and nice structure. For the fruits, for instance, we are growing seven varieties of raspberries as well a three varieties of gooseberries.

FU: This all sounds … almost Arcadian. At the same time I can imagine there must be things you miss out here. What is it that you miss most?

Mark: I don’t think we miss too much. During the growing season we’re too busy. And we have an arrangement with one of our customers. They stay in Warsaw in December and January to enjoy real winters and we can use their apartment. We pay them in chickens, which works actually much better than using the official currency. In fact, more than fifty per cent of our business is based on direct trade. The Climate Tax on meat is a real pain in the ass for businesses like us.

So we spend long weekends in the city. First of all, our children can meet certain professionals learn specific skills, e.g. native speakers foreign languages. Then, of course, we visit musea and go to concerts. Moreover, we sometimes give courses to city people on growing vegetables. Some twenty years ago there was this interest in urban farming, which after a few years stopped. These days it is picking up again, people have a need for connecting to the physical world. Basically this has always been an underground current, but now it surges more than ever.

FU: Do you think your children would want to live here or in the city?

Mark: You ask for themselves. Let’s see who’s around. … Ah, there is Fiona, she is fourteen and our oldest child. Today she has been taking care of a group of toddlers.

Fiona: I am planning to live in the city in a few years time because there is no other option. I play the hobo and I want to become a professional musician. However, I already know I cannot stand to live in an apartment building. Thus, finding an appropriate spot to live is going to be challenge. And afterwards, I will return here. There are many benefits, such as living with our animals, being free of camera monitor, and I reckon there will still be disconnected spots to relax.


JanssenLucas Janssen has experience in most of the disciplines related to the field of integrated water management. Currently he is with Deltares, a research and technology organization. Lucas lives in Wageningen, the Netherlands, near the river Rhine.

School Run

John Sayer helps his kids prepare for school in future Hong Kong

Good morning girls. Have you packed your lunches? We have some papaya from the tree beside our house, take that too. The tree’s doing better since we joined the Compost Compact. We need more home-grown fresh fruit since they put that quota on air-freight food imports to Hong Kong.

You can bring your sandwich onto the ferry. That new electric boat is more stable than the old one, and nice and quiet when I feel like a nap.

Yes, you can carry your parasolars today. Don’t stab other pedestrians in the eye while you’re playing with them and don’t damage the cells or the fans. Use them, though; the UV forecast is ‘extreme’ today. Wear your evapocool undershirts as well. You’ll look like the plastic bottles they’re recycled from!

I’ve got to stay in this morning, they’re fitting our home air-and-water temperature system later today. Yes, hot water and cool air from the same machine. It will run off our own roof panels on a sunny day, and we sell extra electricity to Hong Kong Electric . . . to get a lower power bill.

While the engineers are here I’ll ask when the salt water flushing water is going to be installed on the island. We are among the last districts to be fitted. Yes, most of Hong Kong’s toilets were converted years ago to use sea water.

Convenient to stay home; they’re doing a ‘floor lift’ at the office this month; moving everything out of the ground floor of our office block and knocking the walls out to allow water to pass under in case of street floods. Not too big problem for our work, I mean who in Hong Kong isn’t used to the best use of small areas? Just better sharing of desk space? And perhaps more working from home.

Actually the opened up street level under our office will be made into a walk-though public space, with improved air circulation. It will probably become part of the ‘cool spots’ initiative – that’s right, those places where people can sit in a mist breeze for a minute or two if they overheat on the streets. Yes, I do like them. Have you tried the new scented mists? Menthol, lemon, mango? I think the cosmetic companies should sponsor them! We could have an Issey Miyake mist stop, a Burberry breeze break. Perhaps Body Shop could produce a mosquito-repelling mist.

They have mist fans in the school playground don’t they? All the recreation areas are covered right? When you play on the fields you wear those Foreign Legion hats don’t you?

I do hope this Great Harbour Wall will help keep water levels down when it’s finished. I’m glad they covered the cycle track along the top with a solar panel roof. You can cycle anywhere along the whole waterfront without getting bleached in the sun. A clever idea to add that tidal energy trial into the wall over by the old airport too – they’ve nicknamed it “the steel dragon” because of the bendy bits.

Did you see that the Mandatory Provident Fund are offering higher returns to anyone who cycles or walks to work? That’s because they think we’ll use less money on medical costs. They call it nudging I think – so know your being nudged! Well, I’ll let you cycle to school when they have completed the separate track, I don’t want you to go under a bus – those electric ones are a bit quiet.

What’s your after-school CAS* activity today? Weather outreach for old people, so that they can respond to extreme weather or flood warnings? Some use smartphones and some need a young person to go round and talk to them. That’s nice for them anyway, you should plan to visit them even if they do have a smart phone; even when the weather is safe.

The school is helping with flood probability surveys? I see, you make a record of the types of doors and windows in low-lying houses, and the direction the doors face and then this is combined with a GPS flood map to work out overall vulnerability. Do they fit those flood shields? They block the doorway, it slots into the door frame, for about half a meter. Mostly plastic, very strong, made over the border in China.

And how about your CAS? Mozzie watch? That’s looking out for standing water isn’t it? You can report people? Sounds a bit tough, they can get fined can’t they? Well I suppose they’ve had enough warning about the rules, and the drainage services are free if work is needed. Still, children reporting adults . . . make sure you don’t start behaving like Red Guards and tormenting adults whose minds are not as sharp as yours.

Don’t forget that this weekend we’re doing the Really Really Free Market in the village. You’re working on ceramics, clothes and cloth. I’m on wood and furniture. I also agreed to do an hour on the Green Cottage stall with veggie breakfasts for everyone in aid of the help the Village Circular Economy initiative.

Have a nice day today. There’s a typhoon out beyond the Philippines, but you’ve downloaded the Water Watch app right? Why do you call it ‘turds’? Typhoon, tide deluge and surge; very funny – not. Alright, phone charged right? Use the elevated walkways okay! Sunblock please, parasolas or no parasolas.

Goodbye, stay safe

Bye . . . haven’t you forgotten something? Water bottles, water bottles. Remember the trouble you got into with that plastic bottle!

No, the typhoon’s still a couple of days away. You may have to have a day’s skypeschool if it arrives.


John SayerThe Really Really Free Market is real – operated by young people in Hong Kong for free exchange of unwanted goods. Already, over 80% of toilets in Hong Kong flush with sea water. The Green Cottage is a vegetarian Café on the car-free Lamma Island in Hong Kong. John Sayer (email) is Director of Carbon Care Asia, and lives on Lamma Island with two daughters who travel to school by public ferry.

* CAS stands for Creativity, Activity and Service in West Island School.