The faces of climate change: Vietnam

Food & climate change article written on the 15 Nov 2010

I can still remember the first time I travelled to South East Asia. I was visiting my dad who was working at a university in northern Thailand. My 14 year old self remembers with clarity the unfamiliar smells, spicy food, crowded streets and golden Buddha statues. But above all I remember the rain. Each afternoon clouds swollen with water would roll into the sky and then open up, drenching the earth.

Late last year I was lucky enough to return to Thailand to attend the UN climate negotiations. While I was there I met many farmers and fisher folk from all over South-East Asia who had travelled to Bangkok to take part in a large rally. As we marched through the streets of Bangkok, predictably, the skies opened, raining down upon us. As umbrella’s collectively opened, one of the women farmers I was walking with turned to me and said,

“I don’t know much about climate change, but the rain doesn’t come when it used. Whether it’s too much or too little, the rain ruins my fields, my crops.”

As I watched this week’s Faces of Climate Change story featuring community members from the Bac Ai district in Vietnam, I kept thinking back to this woman’s comment, and what changing rainfall patterns meant not just for her, but for farming communities all over South-East Asia.

For anyone who is familiar with Vietnam, the Bac Ai district is north-east of Ho Chi Minh. It has the hottest temperatures, least rainfall and some of the worst poverty rates in all of Vietnam, with more than 60% of people in this district living on the income of less than $12 per month. As the rainy season shrinks and the dry season expands, farmers who depend on rainfall to water their crops are struggling to grow enough food to earn a living and feed their families.

Community leader and famer Chamalea Bac explains that weather changes make it hard to determine when to plant crops. Furthermore, because of the recent drought, his family has lost much of their crops and livestock, and now have to travel further to collect water, water which they can’t guarantee to be clean.

As the weather has changed, the community has learnt that it must adapt. With the support of local development organisations and the government, the people of Bac Ai have invested in new ways to manage their access to water, and are planting different crops which can survive with less rain and are more resilient to changing weather patterns.

While essential, these initiatives do come with a price tag. For farmers, fisher folk and poor communities, already struggling to combat poverty, adapting to the impacts of climate change can be really tough, even if the eventual benefits are far reaching. Furthermore, adaptation initiatives need to be well thought out, they must take into account potential social and environmental impacts to ensure that any steps taken to tackle climate change also supports poverty reduction in an environmentally safe way.

This week we’re asking you to share your thoughts on this question:
Should rich high greenhouse gas polluting countries provide funding, above their existing aid budgets, to assist poor communities adapt to climate change?
What do you think?

Here at Oxfam we know that this experience isn’t unique to famers across South-East Asia, around the world seasons are changing, and in some cases, distinct seasons are disappearing all together. Hearing the stories of hunger, dirty water and ruined livelihoods really brings home to me the human side of the phenomenon that is climate change.

What you can do: