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Cablegate: Vietnam's Central Coast Provinces Rebound in the Aftermath

VZCZCXRO3723
RR RUEHDT RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0686/01 3570747
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 230747Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6186
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 4081
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0053
RHMFIUU/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 6429

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 000686

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS
USDOC FOR 4430/MAC/ASIA/OPB/VLC/HPPHO
USAID FOR DCHA/OFDA RTHAYER
DAA/ASIA MELLIS
ASIA/EAA RSCOTT AND DKHY
BANGKOK FOR OFDA REGIONAL COORDINATOR ALAN DWYER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV KSCA TBIO EAID VN
SUBJECT: VIETNAM'S CENTRAL COAST PROVINCES REBOUND IN THE AFTERMATH
OF TYPHOON MIRINAE

REF: HANOI 1082

HO CHI MIN 00000686 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Subject: Officials in Khanh Hoa and Binh Dinh gave
themselves high marks for their preparation and response to
Typhoon Mirinae, which hit Vietnam's south central coast on
November 2. Perhaps rightly so, because ConGen HCMC's December
9-11 visit to the region found life has effectively returned to
normal, even in Phu Yen province where officials were too busy
to meet with foreigners because of the cleanup effort.
Provincial leaders blamed global warming for a greater number of
unpredictable storms and are currently implementing GVN's
national target plan to establish climate change adaptation and
mitigation measures. Mirinae underscores another interesting
provincial dynamic; local leaders said that when a national
mandate contradicts local reality in an emergency, it's every
province for itself. Provincial leaders noted they used U.S.
Navy website forecasts during the emergency, and appealed to the
U.S. for further disaster response assistance, particularly
technical assistance, providing equipment necessary for rapid
response and training. End Summary.

2. (U) Typhoon Mirinae hit nine provinces in the center of
Vietnam on November 2, with Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, and Khanh Hoa
enduring the heaviest damage. The storm claimed the lives of
around 123 Vietnamese and stranded thousands more. Nearly 50,000
houses were damaged by flooding, of which more than 2,000
collapsed. Through the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), the United States provided $250,000 to the
International Federation of the Red Cross to fund basic
emergency relief items such as blankets, water containers,
cooking pots, mosquito nets, soap, and water purification
tablets to more than 28,000 people who were badly affected by
the typhoon. This assistance followed $750,000 in USAID support
to victims of Typhoon Ketsana (reftel) that slammed into
Vietnam's central provinces in late September.

The Anatomy of Storm Preparation

---------------------------------

3. (SBU) The Steering Committee of each provincial Flood
Prevention Committee is headed by the Vice Chairman of the
People's Committee while the DARD Director is managing head and
oversees the other 22 agencies on the steering committee.
Within the committee is a Standing Office, which acts as an
"advisor" to the Steering Committee, looks at various prevention
activities and technical expertise, and communicates with the
national flood prevention committee. This structure is
replicated at the district and communal levels.

4. (SBU) Mr. Nguyen Thai Nhu Tri, managing director of Binh
Dinh's flood management authority said that when a storm is
300-500 kilometers away, the Steering Committee holds a meeting
to develop an action plan based on the latest forecast, which
usually includes calling fishing boats back to shore, evacuating
residents in high risk areas, removing high cranes or things
that can fall and installing sandbags. When the storm is 50
kilometers offshore, the Steering Committee gives specific
taskings that include moving elderly and children, mobilizing
military and volunteer forces and putting four "on-the-spots" in
place: a commander, rescue forces, transportation, and relief
logistics.

5. (SBU) According to the managing director of Khanh Hoa's flood
management authority, Mr. Dao Cong Thien, one other important
tasking before a major storm is to have a plan for release of
water from hydropower plants and irrigation reservoirs. Khanh
Hoa has one hydropower plant and before Typhoon Mirinae Mr.
Thien said he personally went to the reservoir twice to check
procedures for the water level and held inter-reservoir meetings
with managers downstream to assure cooperation; he forced them
to release water to allow a place for it to go if heavy rains
forced the hydropower plant to release. Although Mr. Thien
highlighted his vigilance in this regard, he did not fault the

HO CHI MIN 00000686 002.2 OF 003


managers of the Ba Ha power plant in Phu Yen province, who media
have criticized for an emergency water release that led to
additional flooding, saying they did the best they could under
historically heavy rains.

Self-Criticism, Vietnam Style

-----------------------------

6. (SBU) Binh Dinh's flood prevention director said he would
rate the province's response to Typhoon Mirinae on a scale of
one to ten as an eight or nine after taking into consideration
the resources available and the extremity of the storm. The
lessons he learned are to never refuse offers of assistance even
if they don't have their intended effect, as every effort will
boost morale; also, he underscored the need to increase the
capacity of local people, citing former Party Secretary Nguyen
Van Linh: "We have to save ourselves before God does." Mr.
Thien, on the other hand, gave Khanh Hoa a perfect 10 score on
his province's performance, noting his personal involvement with
the reservoirs and the rapid decision to send military battalion
to the north of the province as soon as the storm hit Phu Yen.

7. (SBU) When faced with the choice between following national
Steering Committee dictate or making their own choices,
authorities in both provinces stated that the People's Committee
Chairman's first responsibility is to the people of his province
and thus must act in accordance with those needs. For example,
after it became clear that Phu Yen would be the worst impacted
by Mirinae, the national flood prevention steering committee
directed Khanh Hoa to send eight emergency boats to their
neighbor for assistance, but the province refused in case they
were needed for its own relief efforts. Similarly, because the
Steering Committee only receives national weather forecasts
updates every six hours after being vetted through Hanoi,
authorities depend on outside "unofficial" updates, including
the U.S. Navy's website, which both groups cited as the "best."

Provinces Believe Climate Change at Work in Worsening Storms

--------------------------------------------- ---------------

8. (SBU) Provincial officials were eager to frame recent storms
in a greater context of global warming. Mr. Thien said that
storms in the central region of Vietnam had become more
frequent, more severe and, most notably, more unpredictable in
the last ten years. Whereas storms of the past would typically
begin in the Pacific, travel over the Philippines into the South
China Sea and then traverse a steady course into Vietnam, now
there are more storms that are forming directly in the South
China Sea and can suddenly shift direction without warning.
There are also more storms going directly down the coast from
north to south. During Typhoon Mirinae, weather updates were
frequent and accurate, but leaders were taken back by the sheer
amount of rain dumped on the province in a flash flood. Binh
Dinh Flood Prevention expressed similar surprise - the storm
itself was manageable, but the 70 centimeters that were dumped
in the aftermath and unprecedented flooding that followed posed
a greater challenge.

9. (SBU) Mr. Thien said that while he is not an expert on
climate change, he does know about Vietnam's National Target
Program (NTP) to set overall targets for adaptation and
mitigation to climate change. As part of the program, each
province creates its own detailed plan and Khanh Hoa has already
submitted its plan to the central government. As part of the
NTP, GVN has also selected eight provinces as pilot projects to
establish "best practices." Mr. Thien was critical of this
approach because all eight of the provinces chosen are poor with
weak preparedness programs, and he would never want to look to
them as a guide for what should be done in Khanh Hoa. He gave
the example of Quang Ngai that had received and used foreign
funding to build a safe house, and had no money left over to buy

HO CHI MIN 00000686 003.2 OF 003


what is most important: equipment. In his opinion a better
approach would be to choose as models four provinces with
inadequate systems and four with strong systems, like Khanh Hoa.


Comment:

--------

10. (SBU) Driving through the provinces most affected by
flooding in the aftermath of Typhoon Mirinae, damage from the
storm was not readily visible. This is either testament to
effective relief efforts -- giving credibility to the provincial
Steering Committee's high self-evaluation scores -- or due to
the fact that the worst hit areas are farther inland and off the
beaten path. Despite little evidence of flooding damage, Phu
Yen authorities refused to meet with EconOff, citing that they
were "too busy dealing with floods." That same week Phu Yen
authorities also refused to meet with Canadian Embassy
officials, who wanted to check up on how $800,000 they'd donated
for Mirinae disaster relief was being spent. Other provincial
leaders, however, appealed for U.S. technical capacity and
equipment to assist in managing future storms, or at least
advice on the best equipment to purchase, so that they can
become even more effective in the face of worsening future
storms and flooding.

10. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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