As we spoke, it started to rain and water poured through the roof into their home
After a couple of weeks in Hanoi, hearing and writing every day about the suffering of communities affected by Typhoon Ketsana in Vietnam, I took a trip to one of the remotest and worst hit areas, Huong Hoa district in Quang Tri very close to the Laos border to find out for myself.
Such a beautiful place – green and lush gentle mountains, deep ravines with gushing rivers – at first glance it disguises the impact of one of the worst natural disasters to strike Vietnam in the last 50 years.
Everyone I spoke to had never lived through a storm this bad. Thankfully, early warning systems meant that thousands of lives were saved. But thousands do not have to perish to create a humanitarian disaster.
Thousands of people’s crops, tools, seeds, livestock were destroyed, leaving them with few ways to earn a living and support themselves. The worst thing is that the disaster leaves them even more vulnerable – and poorer than they were – they won’t be anywhere near as resilient if another disaster were to strike.
We always talk about how it’s the most vulnerable who suffer the most in emergency. And I certainly found that to be true in Vietnam – those with the flimsiest homes, those without money to do repairs or buy the essentials they’ve lost, those who are already marginalised and don’t have access to the same support or services as the rest of the population. And above all, children – always the most vulnerable – to illness, suffering and loss of hope and prospects.
I met a family whose story upset me a great deal – Py Cuong, a mother of five children whose husband is too sick to work or even leave their home. They are from an ethnic minority called Van Kieu, and speak a different language to most Vietnamese. Their thatch and rattan house was severely damaged by the storm but they have no money to pay for repairs. They also lost the rice they grow for food. Py Cyong’s oldest daughter, Ho Thi Kiet is not able to go to school as they family are too poor, so she has to stay home and look after the house, her father and her little brothers and sisters whilst her mother works in neighbours’ fields in return for food.
Py Cuong told me “I’m afraid that I can’t afford to raise the children and look after my husband. I have no idea how I’m going to find the money to repair the roof”. As we spoke, it started to rain and water poured through the roof into their home.
Thankfully, her family received relief that day from Save the Children – enough rice to feed them for 6 weeks, household essentials such as pots, sleeping mats, blanket, mosquito net as well as soap, detergent and other hygiene related items that will help keep the children well. But she needs more help, to get the family back on their feet and to build a better future for her children.