El Nino: The creeping crisis in Vietnam

Mother and son in Vietnam
Bdai with her son, Gwyn, at her father’s house where she now lives.

Last winter here in the UK we had a taste of just how damaging the weather can be as storms Desmond, Eva and Frank battered areas of the country.

They caused huge destruction, ruining infrastructure and destroying people’s homes.

The creeping crisis

Across the world, a largely silent crisis known as El Niño has been causing similar disruption but on an epic scale.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that happens every three to seven years. Usually, the effects are relatively mild.

But this year’s El Niño, which is the strongest on record, has caused flooding, droughts and even forest fires across huge areas of Asia, Central America and Africa.

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A devastating drought

I’ve just visited Vietnam which, due to El Niño, has just experienced its worst drought in 90 years.

The rural communities of the Gia Lai province, who depend on farming rice, cassava and corn, have been hit particularly hard.

Supporting children

I visited a village called Ayun Commune. It’s a typical farming community where families live in a cluster of small one-room houses on stilts above the ground, and work on the fields in the surrounding countryside.

There, I met a woman called Bdai who has two young children – 4-year-old Gwyn and one-year-old Len. Len has been partially paralysed since birth.

Bdai is struggling to bring her children up on her own. She earns her income from a small rice and cassava field that was given to her by her father.

But because of the drought Bdai had to plant her crops three months later than usual, and when she did plant them, they failed.

She had to reduce her meals, sometimes to just one a day, and was worried about her children’s future.

Bdai collecting water in Vietnam.
Bdai collecting water from her local river.

Dreams of a happy future

She had no choice but to borrow money to buy medicine for her daughter, and was forced to move in with her father and collect manure to sell for an income.

The money she earns goes towards paying off her debts, buying fertiliser for her field and medicine for her daughter.

When I asked what her hopes for the future are, she said: “I dream that my family will have a house and that my children have enough food and clothing, and that they will be able to earn enough money.”

How we’re helping

During this difficult time, we’ve helped Bdai and her family by providing her with enough rice to feed herself and her family for a month.

As well as providing rice and other nutritious food, we’ve helped families like Bdai’s by trucking water to the hardest hit communities, giving out water filters to make drinking safe, and running hygiene promotion sessions so that families know how to keep safe and healthy during the drought.

It’s a global crisis

During my time in Vietnam I was struck by the complexity of this crisis.

There’s no catastrophic moment to capture the attention of the world – no eruption of violence or dramatic natural disaster.

Instead, El Niño has caused a slow, creeping crisis, the world-wide scale of which is almost incomprehensible.

More than 60 million people are thought to have been affected.

As families are emerging from this crisis, there’s now a 75% chance of a reverse weather pattern taking hold, known as La Niña. This could lead to more damage to children’s lives.

Donate to our Emergency Fund

It’s only thanks to our Emergency Fund that we’re able to reach families caught up in emergencies like this, and make sure that they can support their children through the toughest times.

You can help children caught in emergencies around the world – donate now to our Emergency Fund.

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