Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vietnam typhoon claims livelihoods as well as lives

HANOI, Vietnam (AFP) – Flooded rice fields, dead cattle and smashed fishing boats will mean economic hardship for Vietnam's typhoon survivors long after they clean the mud from their houses, aid workers say.

Typhoon Ketsana, one of the worst disasters to strike Vietnam in years, claimed the lives of 162 people and has also taken away the livelihoods of many more.

"The harvest for this season is probably lost," said Ugo Blanco, who is coordinating disaster response for the United Nations.

Less than one week after the typhoon affected 14 provinces last Tuesday, aid agencies are still in the emergency phase where the priority is distributing fresh water, food, and basic household supplies including blankets and mosquito nets. Related article: Asian armies to the rescue

But Blanco says there is also a need to start thinking about the medium and longer-term impact of the disaster and how to help people in this largely rural country get back to work.

Ketsana caused devastation across Southeast Asia, killing at least 293 people in the Philippines before striking Vietnam. It also claimed 17 lives in Cambodia and 24 in Laos.

Vietnam is the world's second-largest rice exporter but initial government estimates say more than 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of paddy have been flooded or damaged. About half of that loss came in one province, Binh Dinh.

Almost 60,000 hectares of other crops were also damaged.

Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces suffered the heaviest livestock losses, of almost 150,000 poultry, about 1,600 cows and buffalo, and 2,800 pigs, the government report said.

The storm also damaged more than 500 boats and ships, mostly in the fishing province of Quang Ngai, it said.

About 2,300 hectares of aquaculture areas were inundated, but for Pham Chau and other seafood producers the extent of the losses is still unclear.

"We will only know really how much we lost in terms of fish and shrimp in the next few days," said Chau, 47, of Tong Chanh village in Thua Thien-Hue.

For the moment, he knows that big waves during the storm damaged about half the enclosure where he raises the sea creatures.

Chau was busy trying to fix a damaged net. Others had been swept away and he expects "considerable" losses.

His wife usually sells the fish he produces at the market but since the storm damaged his enclosure they have not sold anything, forcing them to live off their savings, he said.

"I don't have much in my savings now," said Chau, who invested 50 million dong (2,800 dollars) in his business, partly through a bank loan that is not paid off and prevents his getting more help from the bank.

He said he might have to turn to loan sharks to rebuild his business.

For the most vulnerable, the Red Cross aims to help 21,000 obtain a viable source of income by early next year.

That initiative is among the aims of an international appeal for 4.75 million dollars launched by the Red Cross on Friday.

It could include the supply of fertiliser to two or three provinces, said Doan Van Thai, secretary general of the Vietnam Red Cross Society.

State-run Vietnam News on Saturday said the government planned to give 460 billion dong -- about 25.6 million dollars -- to affected areas, partly to buy seedlings to restart production but also for rebuilding, disease control and other measures.

Local governments in the typhoon-hit central region have asked Hanoi for far more. They want close to 40 million dollars as well as 600 tonnes of rice seed, 20 tonnes of vegetable seed and 30 tonnes of maize seed.

Blanco said the UN had sent people to the disaster zone to try to assess the need for livelihood recovery assistance.

"Probably this will be one of the main sectors which the international community will try to support," he said.
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