As the rainy season approaches roads turn to rivers as residents struggle to go about their business
With most of Ho Chi Minh City’s existing flood management projects either behind schedule or ineffective, the city will continue to suffer urban floods in the years to come, experts have warned. VIR’s Thanh Thuy reports.
Ho Chi Minh City is currently drowning as the rainy season unleashes its fury.
Roads near the Saigon River in areas such as Districts 2, 7, Thu Duc and Binh Thanh are transformed into small rivers in a matter of hours.
Ho Chi Minh City residents unlucky enough to be on the move have little choice but to sit things out, choosing a place to keep dry until the surface water drains away.
Luu Thi Hai, a resident of District 2’s Luong Dinh Cua street, said: “Each afternoon, rains combine with the tides of the Saigon River and push the water level on the road up 0.2 to 0.5 metres. It takes at least three hours for that water to drain away.”
At 8pm, Hai and her children are still in her office. Her husband also comes home late and the family always has dinner after 10pm.
“They say District 2 and District 7 are the new central business districts of the southern hub; high-rise buildings have been going up everywhere over the last five years but the sewerage management system in these districts is very old and of a poor standard. We would like to move. The urban floods give us a lot of trouble, travelling is inconvenient and then there is the environmental pollution,” said Hai.
Residents living in Hiep Phuoc ward, Thu Duc district are also victims of the urban flooding.
At the end of last month, a 1.48m tide, which overflowed the Saigon dike, caused flooding for 80 households in the ward. The flood lasted over four hours and caused damages to household items including beds, refrigerators, televisions and bookshelves.
Nguyen Viet Hung, a resident living in the Hiep Phuoc ward, said: “The ward has been experiencing urban floods for 10 years but this year’s was the most serious flood yet. The water levels were so much higher and it took more time for the flood to be taken care of.”
Nguyen Phuoc Thao, director of Ho Chi Minh City Steering Centre of the Urban Flood Control (SCFC) confirmed that urban flooding was becoming more difficult to control. “While work has been done at many other areas in the city near Bac Tau Hu and Tan Hoa-Lo Gom basin, the city is seeing new flood areas in suburban sections of the city.”
According to the SCFC’s latest report, Ho Chi Minh City has around 58 areas subject to flooding and these urban floods affect at least 917,000 people, or 12 per cent of the city’s population. They have also caused serious damage to 154 of the city’s 322 wards and taken their toll on nearly 11,000 hectares.
Thao blames the current urban flooding on delays to most of the current flood management projects.
“If all of existing flood control projects were completed by the end of this year as scheduled, the city would not be flooded. However, there is still flooding in many streets in the inner city and suburbs as the projects are facing different problems,” said Thao.
A typical case is the construction of the 50 kilometre dyke on the right bank of the Saigon River.
With total investment capital of $22 million, the important project, which includes 140 drains and three bridges, should have been completed early this year. However, the developer has only completed some 90 per cent of the project to date.
Bui The Hai, manager of the dyke project laid the lion’s share of the blame for the delays to the construction on problems clearing ground for a 800m dyke in the project’s No.1A package.
“Saigon Ve Wong Co and some households have yet to handover their land to us so we cannot carry out [construction] of the dykes as promised,” said Hai.
Also facing ground clearance problems is the $65.3 million Tham Luong-Ben Cat wastewater treatment plant – still only on paper despite being named as an important project in the Ho Chi Minh City drainage system master plan.
The plant was originally licenced back in June 2001.
Vo Van Canh, representative of the alliance formed by Austria-backed SFC Umwelttechnik GmbH Company, SFC Vietnam Company and Phu Dien Construction and Investment, developer of the Tham Luong-Ben Cat wastewater treatment plant complained that the problems in ground clearance were creating additional burdens.
“It takes only 19 months to complete the project but it was delayed for two years. The delay caused heavy losses as we have only $13 million in investment capital. The rest was loans,” said Canh.
Local authorities at the areas where the above projects are located said they had tried their best, but residents on recovered land had proved obstinate.
“Some residents with recovered land said that the compensation levels were too low. They banded together and determined to get their desired [financial] target,” said Bui Viet Thien Trieu, deputy director of land clearance committee of District 12, home to the Tham Luong-Ben Cat plant.
Nguyen Phuoc Thao, director of SCFC, said that besides troubles in ground clearance, flood control projects in the southern hub faced a lack of investment capital and struggled with complex investment licencing procedures.
Recently, Ho Chi Minh City sent a document to prime minister requesting more investment capital for the city’s drainage system master plan from 2011 towards 2015 and approve methods to raise cash for 16 irrigation and flood prevention projects in the city.
“We need about VND14,000 billion ($676.3 million) from 2011 to 2015 to help the city overcome its annual floods. However, at this time, the city’s budget has only VND1,000 billion ($48.3 million) for the work. We need effective methods to mobilise investment capital to speed up existing uncompleted flood management projects and rapidly finish new projects,” said Thao.
While there has been no official decision from the prime minister as yet, some environmental experts said that even when all licenced flood control projects in the city were completed, the city would not be able to overcome its flooding issue.
Nguyen Minh Hoa, head of Urban Department of the Ho Chi Minh City Social Science and Humanities University, said the data used to design existing flood control management systems did not match the city’s current statistics, especially given issues related to global climate change.
Hoa said that technical design of West-East Avenue project and the first phase of the improved water project backed by Japan International Cooperation Agency helped the city overcome flooding when the peak tide of the Saigon River was 1.32m and maximum rainfall was 90 millimetres.
However, the current peak tide in Saigon River was 1.6m and in 2010, the city saw a lot of heavy rains with the maximum rainfall reaching 124mm, according to Hoa.
“With the [currently] licenced flood control projects, the city cannot tackle the floods caused by tides accompanied by heavy rains in rainy seasons,” said Hoa.
For Hai, Hung and the other 900,000 of Ho Chi Minh City residents affected by the flooding, however, such technical discussions may only be of limited interest. For them, it is all about minimising the damage done by waters that can’t recede quickly enough.