Communicating climate risks to Vietnam's vulnerable coastal communities

May 04, 2015
Bill Morton

Vietnam is particularly vulnerable to climate change and associated sea level rise, as much of its population lives in high-risk, low-lying delta and coastal areas. For instance, in 2011, severe flooding hit the coastal city of Can Tho and its population of 1.2 million people. Climate scientists predict that most of the city will be inundated by the end of the century.

While many of the households located in Vietnam's high-risk urban areas have an understanding of climate change, they lack detailed information about how local impacts may affect their lives and how they can prepare. IDRC-funded research led by the National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies (NISTPASS) is responding to this need by investigating how climate risk can be better communicated to households, schoolchildren, and policymakers in the cities of Can Tho, Da Nang, and Quy Nhon.

Communicating climate uncertainty

A key aspect of this research involves communicating climate change uncertainty and risk to different target audiences in each of the three cities. Game theory approaches were used to communicate with policymakers and city planners, and song writing and flash mob competitions were used to engage schoolchildren. The largest focus involved communication with households, typically the most difficult to reach. Short videos featuring local newscasters were presented to approximately 750 households in each city, and were edited to present information and practical recommendations for addressing local climate risks, depending on the city. For instance, the video for Can Tho explains that there is an increased risk of dengue fever associated with climate change and that this risk can be reduced by removing standing rainwater from around homes and public spaces, where dengue-carrying mosquitoes are known to breed.

Researchers recorded the responses of householders to determine which messages were most effective. Videos were shown using tablets, so as to easily engage participants’ interest in climate issues. At the end of the exercise, many of the participants were keen to learn more. A key finding from this part of the research is that people are more likely to take action to address climate risks when information is delivered by a recognizable and trusted messenger, such as a well-known newscaster.

Informing climate change policy

The research is expected to have a number of practical and policy outcomes, including informing guidelines for use by organizations and local governments to more effectively communicate climate change risk and uncertainty to households and communities. NISTPASS is affiliated with the Ministry of Science and Technology and is well-positioned to contribute to policy development. Researchers collaborated closely with the Climate Change Coordination Office (CCCO), a government unit with specific expertise on the biophysical, economic, and social impacts of climate change across the Mekong Delta. The CCCO helped to mobilize a wide range of organizations across the three study locations, including youth groups and women’s unions, to share climate expertise and improve overall communication of policy-relevant messages within government and to external stakeholders.

The research is expected to make important contributions to policy, including provisions for climate change preparedness and communication in local-level sector plans and through broader inter-ministerial efforts at the national government level. NISTPASS is now working through the CCCO to develop television programs based on information from the videos, for broadcast to a wider public audience. It is also building on successful youth engagement on climate issues in Can Tho to more extensively involve young people in discussing how climate will affect them in the future.

Bill Morton is an Ottawa-based writer.

Photo (right): NISTPASS, School children in the coastal city of Can Tho prepare a short skit about local climate change impacts.

Watch an interview with researcher Bach Tan Sinh, NISTPASS