Vulnerability to Natural Disasters: The Case of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta

Vulnerability to Natural Disasters: The Case of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta

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In late 2015, the El Nĩno phenomenon induced Vietnam’s worst drought in 60 years, which lasted until mid-2016 and intensified the most expansive saline intrusion in 90 years. The combination of the two hazards resulted in a large-scale disaster, which has led 18 provinces of Vietnam, most of them from the Mekong Delta, to water shortage, insanitation, human and animal diseases, food emergency need and a considerable disruption in local communities’ livelihoods. These devastating effects raise the question of what makes local households vulnerable to drought and saline intrusion. The chapter argues that vulnerability to the natural disaster is not something resulted from external threats, but rather, is derived from the interplay between social structures residing deeply inside the socio-economic systems and agency’s conditions presenting at the household level. Social structures are rules and procedures that constrain and/or enable human actions in agricultural production, risk taking and adaptation. Agency refers to the capacities of disaster-affected households in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta who cultivated third rice crop and suffered heavily from the 2015–2016 disaster. In addition to households’ lack of planning and coping capacities, the constitution of vulnerability to drought and saline intrusion can be attributed to the interaction between farmers’ choice of extra rice crops and the state’s policies and directions in agricultural and irrigation development since 1990s to date.