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Vietnam: building bridges

Water defines the Mekong Delta. The region’s landscape is a patchwork of paddy-fields criss-crossed by rivers and canals.

This abundance of water is both the region’s blessing and sometimes its curse.

The wet, fertile soil gives the Mekong Delta its status as the ‘Rice Bowl of Vietnam’. However, the excess of water often wreaks havoc on the lives of the inhabitants.

Despite a plentiful supply of water and food, the Mekong Delta is one of the poorest regions of Vietnam.

Income and the average quality of life is a lot lower than in nearby Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon, as it used to be called). This relative poverty is due, in part, to the frequency of natural disasters in the area and their impact on people’s livelihoods.

The floods of 2011 had a huge impact on many of the poorest communities in the Mekong Delta. Many homes were destroyed or damaged, as I described in my last blog post . In addition to the household losses, a lot of vital infrastructure was damaged.

Connecting people

In an area with so many rivers, bridges perform an essential role in connecting people to markets, schools and health facilities.

Last year’s floods were much higher than any witnessed for the last decade. This wiped out or severely damaged many of the essential bridges in the region.

One local farmer currently has to make an additional 20km round trip to sell his crops at the main market due to the loss of a local footbridge. The alternative is to pay a costly fare for the river ferry. This fare, he says, wipes out any profit he can make from selling his crops.

Save the Children has worked with their local partners to identify the highest priority bridges to repair or replace.

Resisting future floods

Our main priorities are the bridges which connect children to schools and those which connect the poorest, most vulnerable communities. All of the bridges are for pedestrians and motorcycles only, and range between 20 and 40m in length.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working with our national staff to develop technical solutions for the bridges which are appropriate to the context.

We need to make sure that any designs that Save the Children support use materials and techniques which are familiar in the region.

However, it’s essential to provide solutions which are durable and can resist the floods of the future.

Part of our team’s role has been to identify commonly observed weaknesses in similar bridges in the region. Many of these weaknesses can be easily overcome through a little consideration and working with those people who will build, maintain and use the bridges in future.

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