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How China & Vietnam were able to save lives

Published Oct 13, 2005 2:20 AM

China and Vietnam were able to move millions of people out of harm’s way when struck by fierce typhoons, Khanun and Damrey, at the end of September.

The most affected areas were Vie t nam’s northern coastal regions and China’s Hainan Island, a large island in the South China Sea. These typhoons were the worst in a decade for Vietnam and in three decades for China.

Typhoons, the Pacific equivalent of Atlantic hurricanes, are regular occurrences in this area but this season’s have been especially intense.

While these typhoons did result in over 100 deaths, tens of thousands homeless and serious damage to Vietnam’s agriculture, the two countries were remarkably successful in averting even greater loss of life.

Both countries managed to carry out efficient, rapid and large-scale evacuations of their populations without the astounding traffic jams or shameful and horrifying abandonment of the poor, elderly, ill and people of color that so characterized the Hurricane Katrina crisis in the U.S.

How could an economically poor country like Vietnam and a rapidly developing country like China succeed in this area when the most powerful imperialist country, the U.S., failed so dramatically? The answer is priorities and organization.

Using buses, trucks and boats in advance of the typhoons, China moved 1.8 million people and Vietnam evacuated 300,000 from vulnerable coastal and low-lying regions to solid buildings, such as schools and other government buildings, located on higher ground. China also moved 35,000 boats to avoid their damage by the winds and storm surge.

Vietnamese farmers returning home after Typhoon Damrey passed over were then trapped by flash floods, but military amphibious vehicles were used to rescue them. One local official observed that while the dike system in northern Vietnam had been seriously damaged, the people were successfully evacuated.

Once the storms had passed, emergency shipments of food and water were rushed in. In Vietnam, 25,000 soldiers were immediately assigned to ensure the safety of the people: first to rescue the stranded; then to shore up the damaged dike systems to protect the farmland; to help with the environmental cleanup after many villages and rice paddies were flooded with sea water, and finally to rebuild homes.

The Vietnamese government’s plans for this kind of disaster include taking food from national reserves and from regional warehouses to distribute to the people in the affected regions. Medical teams were quickly rushed in to avoid or minimize any cholera outbreak.

Most loss of life in Vietnam came from the difficulty of predicting flash floods following the heavy rains of Typhoon Damrey. Some occurred in the mountains behind the affected coast and others in areas to which people had returned to try to reconstruct their homes and farmland.

Both China and Vietnam had long revolutionary struggles against imperialist domination that were led by parties committed not only to national liberation but also to building socialism—a process that is still ongoing as they strive to develop.

Natural disasters cannot always be avoided, but governments and communities organized to ensure people before profits can succeed in averting unnecessary loss of life and in bringing about a return to normal conditions as quickly as possible.