VIETNAM Improving the early warning capacity of fishing communities

On a pebbled beach, Vietnamese fishermen scratch barnacles from the hulls of vessels propped up on wooden blocks. They scour their bottoms using stones and chisels, picking at the tiny crustaceans trapped between the planks of wood, before reapplying a waterproof seal.

The maintenance is intended to ensure the seaworthiness of their vessels, which often put to sea for a month at a time, venturing up to 500km off shore in search of the shoals of fish that traverse the South China Sea.

But a key element of seaworthiness is an appreciation of the risk involved with deep sea fishing, and adequate steps to address this. Much of the fleet moored in Ngu Loc harbour lack basic communication equipment with which to monitor the approaching storms and typhoons that strike the coast of Thanh Hoa province, 200 km south of Hanoi, between July and November each year.

In 2005, the fleet was armed with 26 wind-up radios, but only a handful are still useable, the high rate of attrition due to corrosion and rust caused by sea-water and salt.

At present they receive news from shore via their mobile phones, but they are worthless far out to sea. With no radar, no radio, and no effective means of communication with the authorities on shore, the fleet are like bobbing ducks, blissfully unaware of an approaching storm.

CARE International in Vietnam is one of several non-government organisations working among the coastal communities of Hau Loc district, Thanh Hoa. As part of its “Increase local Disaster Risk Management capacity in Thanh Hoa Province” project, CARE contracted a team of consultants to undertake a study of the existing early warning capacity and recommend improvements.

The consultants met with local government officials, along with representatives of the fishing fleet. Their recommendations included the supply of ICOM two-way radios and FM receiver systems to fishing boats, along with storm tracking maps with which they can plot the course of an approaching typhoon.

CARE is in the process of implementing these recommendations. The storm tracking maps have been supplied to fishing boats and village rescue teams, while the ICOM and FM receiver systems will be rolled out in the second and third weeks of January.

In total, 240 boats will receive FM receivers along with 20 village rescue teams, while 8 deep-sea fishing boats will be connected by the ICOM system with weather forecasts and storm warnings provided by the Hau Loc district Committee for Flood and Storm Control (CFSC). Special Perspex boxes are being designed to protect the ICOM radios from the elements, while plastic covers will insulate the FM receivers.

Don Carroll, an adviser to the World Bank at the consultancy firm Kellogg, Root and Brown cautions that while the ambition to develop a system built on cutting edge technology is natural, in most instances it is better to keep it simple.

Above all, he says any early warning capacity needs to be effective, reliable and easy for the local community to use.

The model being implemented in Hau Loc is indeed a simple one. A lead ship in each fleet will monitor the latest weather reports from the CFSC on the ICOM system before updating the surrounding vessels via their FM receivers.

CARE’s intervention comes at a time in which the issue of early warning is gaining increasing prominence. In the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami, the UNISDR announced plans for the creation of a global Early Warning System to “reduce the deadly toll of natural hazards.” Combining the rapid transmission of data with the training of populations at risk, there is an increasing consensus that Early Warning Systems save lives.

At a national level, the Vietnamese Government’s Strategic National Action Plan for Implementation of the National Strategy for Disaster Prevention, Response and Mitigation to 2020 recognizes the importance of early warning in reducing the human toll of disasters. At a grassroots level, NGO’s such as CARE are working to provide local communities with this early warning capacity.

Tran Thanh Thuy, Project Manager of CARE’s “Increase local Disaster Risk Management capacity in Thanh Hoa Province” project, says that the benefits of CARE’s intervention are clear.

“Given the often unpredictable weather experienced along this coast, a two way dialogue equipment system such as ICOM is a necessary tool to help fishing boats follow weather forecasts and communicate with the land station when they require emergency support.”

“These boats are a vital asset for households dependent on fishing and for the community at large. An early warning capacity safeguards the lives and livelihoods of many people in Hau Loc,” Mr Thuy says.