You are on page 1of 1

SEA LEVELS MAY HAVE RISEN BY

2100
METRE
AFFECTING

BY THE YEAR

Dr. Le Thanh Sang Climate Change at the Grassroots
How sociology and demographics can help Vietnam plan for the effects of global warming
Assessing the potential impact of climate change on a geographic region is an imperfect science, but by now many national and international bodies agree that Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is among the world’s coastal regions expected to experience the most significant effects of global warming and sea level rise. The low-lying Mekong Delta is especially vulnerable to flooding, saltwater intrusion and drought due to hotter temperatures and reduced rainfall. At this point, says Dr. Le Thanh Sang, vice director of the Southern Institute of Sustainable Development, Vietnam must take short- and long-term measures to adapt to the effects the region can reasonably anticipate. Dr. Sang is a sociologist who specialises in migration and urbanisation. Last year he conducted a survey in the Mekong River Delta to assess awareness of climate change. “People in urban areas know more,” says Dr. Sang. “[In rural communities] they cannot access information.” Currently, climate change policies are only available at the national scale and tend to employ top-down approaches based on quantitative information. The priority now, says Dr. Sang, is to conduct research and develop policy proposals that take into account the needs of specific communities and sub-regions. Below are some of the ways in which sociology and demographics will play a role in creating strategies to adapt to climate change. Assess impacts and vulnerabilities. Many impoverished farmers and workers of limited means traditionally live in coastal areas. Risks to health—spread of waterborne disease, sanitation backup, crop contamination—and access to work and education could quickly exacerbate their already precarious circumstances. The cultural, social and economic characteristics of minorities, such as Khmers, are also closely tied to their coastal communities, and they would have greater difficulty integrating into larger communities. Integrate climate change initiatives into poverty alleviation and socioeconomic development programmes. Vietnam already has programmes in place to provide services to disadvantaged communities. The channels can be used as a means of disseminating information on climate change and developing programmes to help farming families diversify crops, increase income sources and alter their lifestyle and behaviour. Synthesize scenarios of impact and vulnerability. Using demographic mechanisms, researchers can create possible scenarios that may result from climate change and help scientists and engineers develop solutions before they play out. In an extreme case, this information could help planners prepare for mass migration should entire communities be inundated or crops fail on a large scale. Demographers can also draw on census data to analyse past results of migration to better prepare cities and regions to absorb the many migrants. This information may also help decision-makers weigh the costs against the benefits when it comes to funding coastal protection and dyke strengthening. Mainstream climate change policies at the grassroots. Social scientists can help to vertically mainstream information from communities into climate change policies and institutions, and horizontally mainstream adaptation and mitigation measures into economic development, healthcare and education policy. They can use their expertise to encourage participation of civil society—farming associations, women’s and youth unions, private business and households. Create adaptation methods and enhance human and institutional capacity for response. Finances for dealing with climate change are not unlimited. Demographic information can help policymakers prioritise projects and local leaders and institutions prepare community members at the grassroots level to adapt to, rather than flee from, the effects of climate change, thereby preventing complications that could result from mass migration. Tom DiChristopher

1

10%

OF VIETNAMESE POPULATION

OF MEKONG DELTA POPULATION

26.7%

8.76%
OF VIETNAMESE LAND AREA

31%
OF MEKONG DELTA LAND AREA
SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT