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This case study on the role of local level institutions in reducing vulnerability to recurrent natural disasters and in sustainable livelihoods development in high risk areas is written for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to contribute to the understanding of the role of local institutions and organizations in the design and implementation of disaster risk management strategies, as well as the role of local authorities in building community social capital for disaster prevention and preparedness. This understanding will provide insight and guidance on how disaster risk management may be integrated into development strategies.

Vietnam, owing to its geographic location, is most prone to typhoons, floods, storms and salinity intrusion. Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue were selected, as the central provinces are the focus of disaster mitigation efforts by government, donors and NGOs in response to the great flood of 1999. The study sites (Gio Linh and Hai Lang Districts, Quang Tri and Aluoi District, Thua Thien Hue) were selected based on the following criteria:

This study is based on the premise that successful disaster risk mitigation and management, as well as rural development, requires that central government line ministries and departments get better linked with local actors, including traditional authorities and civil society, and that actions and resources are better coordinated and decentralized according to the comparative advantages of local actors. These advantages include local perspectives into policy making and rural development planning, two-way communication with higher policy levels, implementation of rural development activities at local level, mobilizing local participation, and handling emergencies at the local level with conscious links to reconstruction, prevention and preparedness phases of disaster risk management.

Conceptual Framework and Key Definition

Definition of terms and the conceptual framework adopted are:

Natural hazard: the probability of occurrence of potentially damaging natural phenomenon in a given area.

Vulnerability: the propensity of a society to experience damage, disruption and casualties as a result of a hazard.

Disaster risk: a function of the probability of a specific natural hazard event and vulnerability of societal systems.

Capacity: policies and institutional systems at the national, provincial, local and household levels to reduce hazard damaging potentials and reduce vulnerability.

Natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and droughts spring to mind when the word disaster is mentioned. Yet these events are in fact natural agents that transform a vulnerable human condition into a disaster. Disaster risk is a product of the frequency and intensity of hazards and the vulnerability of livelihood systems. The role of societal systems in terms of community resilience and management systems could alter the hazard characteristics and reduce vulnerability through systematic interventions. Hence, the capacity of societal systems could act as a denominator in the disaster risk equation to determine the levels of risks. This is illustrated in the diagram below:


In accordance with the Terms of Reference for the case study, the following methodology was followed:

1. Information gathering on the types of organizations and committees existing at the local level, their resources and the risk prevention activities they undertake. Minutes of meetings, government records and reports, including financial records and records of transaction with the central government were accessed.

2. Focus group discussions with disaster victims on their experiences, their perceptions and definition of risk, the resources at their disposal, including social capital and capacity to manage risks. Visits to specific households in the study sites were undertaken to observe their physical vulnerability, as well as interview and interact with family members.

3. Interviews with the local government unit at the provincial, district and commune levels, leaders of mass organizations, other stakeholders, highly vulnerable groups in the selected sites, and government officials at the national level.

This study draws heavily from the following previous studies:

1. Living with the Floods: Coping and Adaptation Strategies of Households and Local Institutions in Central Vietnam (Beckman et al, 2002)

2. Environment, Livelihoods and Local Institutions (Dupar et al, 2002)

3. Social Assessment of the MARD/WB Natural Disaster Mitigation Project (Pairaudeau et al, 2003)

The local institutional response, particularly, in respect of recovery in the context of 1999 floods in Central Vietnam is drawn from the field study mentioned in reference number 1.

Analysis of the information gathered was undertaken within the following framework:

1. Assessment of the existing framework within the selected communities, and the nature, constraints, incentives and capacities within the existing institutions.

2. Review of:

3. Identification of participatory approaches, concrete actions and possible institutional innovations that have strengthened or will strengthen local level capacities for disaster risk management and long-term development in high risk areas.

Structure of the Report

The report is structured into four sections:

Section 1 provides an overview of local institutions, hazards, vulnerability and disaster management, and risk dimensions.

Section 2 describes the role of local institutions in managing the 1999 floods.

Section 3 assesses the role of local institutions in managing disasters.

Section 4 gives the conclusions and recommendations.

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