Natural Hazards

, Volume 86, Issue 1, pp 465–492 | Cite as

Flood vulnerability among rural households in the Red River Delta of Vietnam: implications for future climate change risk and adaptation

  • Pamela McElwee
  • Tuyen Nghiem
  • Hue Le
  • Huong Vu
Original Paper


The Red River Delta (RRD) of Vietnam, one of the world’s most densely populated deltas, is already vulnerable to flooding events, and climate change forecasts project increased exposure to flood risk in coming decades due to changes in rainfall, storm intensity and frequency, and sea-level rise. However, there is a relative neglect of this region in the literature on natural hazards and climate change, particularly on how floods in the RRD might affect poor people and different livelihood sectors, how flood risk is understood and acted on, and how flood impacts experienced by households influence local adaptation choices. This article presents research undertaken in 2009–2010 to understand the impacts of flooding in a typical rural zone (Thai Binh Province) of the RRD to assess overall vulnerability, particularly the relationship between poverty, livelihoods, and flood impacts, as well as to assess the range of adaptation and flood risk reduction options currently used. Our findings indicate that while poor households do not appear to be more exposed to floods than others, their incomes are more sensitive to relative impacts from floods. Yet poverty alone did not explain flood vulnerability, as age of household and livelihood sector involvement showed stronger relationships to flood impacts. Flood risk perceptions were also uneven, but poor people did not seem to take less proactive flood risk reduction measures than others. There are few long-term adaptation actions to flooding being taken by households of any income class, and there is a need for better community and government aid after flood events to help households cope with increased flood risks in the RRD, rather than relying on improvements in hard infrastructure, as is currently the dominant approach in the region, particularly given future forecasts of increased rainfall for northern Vietnam under climate change.


Flooding Vietnam Vulnerability Poverty Climate-dependent livelihoods Adaptation 



Funding for the Vietnamese authors was provided by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA). The authors thank Dr. Herminia A. Francisco, Director of EEPSEA, for her support of this work both financially and intellectually, as well as advice from Dr. Bui Dung The, Hue University. Support was also provided by an Arizona State University travel grant to the first author. The authors would like to thank the director of the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Dr. Hoang Van Thang, for his strong support of this work, and for the administrative assistance of Ha Thi Thu Hue, Pham Viet Hung, and Dang Thu Loan. Conversations with Mook Bangalore and Le Anh Tuan at the World Bank about poverty and flooding were also helpful to frame our paper.


This study was funded by the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) of the International Development Research Center, in a grant awarded to the Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Hanoi, Vietnam, for the project: “Learning from Past Adaptation: Assessing Adaptive Capacity to Climate Changes in the Red River Delta of Vietnam.”

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human EcologyRutgers, The State University of New JerseyNew BrunswickUSA
  2. 2.Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES)Vietnam National UniversityHanoiVietnam

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