Weathering the Storm: Flooding in HCMC

Living in HCMC - Saigon/HCMC: Aug. 1, 2017

During last year’s monsoon season, the Centre Asiatique de Recherche sur l'Eau (“Asian Water Research Centre in English) recorded an astounding 44 flooded streets.

The six-month rainy season officially starts in May, but the centre has already recorded 22 flooded streets in 2017.

Issues with Infrastructure

“Misuse of water diversion infrastructure – filling canals or blocking water drains – has in the past been the driving cause of Ho Chi Minh City’s flooding events, and Asian Water Research Center researcher Tran Ngoc Tien Dung said that remains the key culprit. “The situation [has not] changed,” Tran said in an email giving the centre’s flooding findings for this year.

The research centre defines a flooding event as water accumulation over 10 cm and if the water remains 30 minutes after a rain event.

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Beyond being a nuisance to drivers, flooding can threaten critical resources, as in Tan Son Nhat airport in 2016 when flooding there endangered the power station serving the airport. A disabled power station would have shut down the control tower.

Ho Chi Minh City responded with an immediate US$16 million worth of flood abatement construction.

This represents a fraction of the city’s ongoing financial commitment to flood relief. In September, Ho Chi Minh City announced a VND 97 trillion (US$4.3 billion) water control effort, which will span the next five years and calls for the construction of three reservoirs and a group of pumping stations. A centerpiece group of projects is an eight kilometre, three metre-wide sewage pipe to keep trash out of a key natural water diversion resource, the Saigon River.

Seeking International Relief

The flood effort has won international cooperation. The Dutch government will help build the three 10,000-cubic-metre reservoirs. In the project announcement, the city stated it had 40 percent of the funding immediately available with some of the cost being covered by international aid.

Indeed, when the World Bank’s chief Vietnam liaison Ousmane Dione visited the country for the first time in September, he affirmed the global aid group’s support. Dione’s previous positions with the World Bank were responsible for water control throughout the Southeast Asia region.

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The city’s flooding unit identified 21 flooding hotspots in 2015 and 56 in 2016. Its goal this year is to eliminate 12 of them.

This may prove to be an uphill battle due to an unusually early monsoon season. In April, photos of passengers disembarking from a plane onto a flooded tarmac made rounds on social media. Tran said inundation continues to plague the city because of residential construction, particularly what he feels is a need for greater sensitivity to hydrological concerns.

Going with the Flow

As far as the rain itself goes, Tran said beware the first half hour of a rain storm. Precipitation events tends to produce the most rainfall during that time. Tran added that rain storms tend to cluster themselves around the afternoon, so until around November, be ready for rain any time during 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Also, “always have a raincoat with you.”

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How to Drive in the Rain

Rainy season befalls us now, but duty calls nevertheless. For those driving in the rain, here are a few helpful tips courtesy of DC Motorbike (217 D2, Binh Thanh D.) to keep you and your bike going through the precipitation despite a precipitous travel itinerary.

- If you disregarded the above and went forward anyway, no worries. Shut the bike down, move it to a dry place and use the kickstarter to activate the bike. A running engine will push any water out of the exhaust.

But if you use the electric starter, you may damage it. A manual initiation is best.

- During heavy downpours, wait until more favorable conditions if possible.

- If the water level is above the exhaust, do not proceed. A flooded exhaust can cause problems with the engine and may result in a damaged electric starter. These are costly problems that you can avoid by staying away from shin-high water.

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