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Risky Change? Vietnam's Urban Flood Risk Governance between Climate Dynamics and Transformation

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Vietnam's cities are not only rapidly transforming along with the country's politico-economic change but are also recognized by various studies as being increasingly exposed to natural hazards and the projected impacts of climate change. This results in substantial challenges for urban disaster risk governance which are, however, not well understood scientifically and underemphasized politically. Against this background, the paper traces the dynamics in urban vulnerability and explores how the responsibilities and capacities for risk reduction and adaptation are negotiated and shared between state and non-state actors within the country's changing political economy. The city of Can Tho, the demographic and economic centre of the highly flood- and typhoon-prone Mekong Delta, serves as an in-depth case study, drawing on 12 months of empirical research by the author. The findings suggest that the transformation process has not only yielded ambiguous and socially stratified vulnerability effects amongst urban residents; it has also resulted in significant shifts in the way that different stakeholders frame and attribute risk management. Despite the continued paternalistic rhetoric of the party-state apparatus as caretaker, considerable mismatches between state and non-state adaptation action can be observed, potentially undermining the effectiveness of both realms. The findings therefore call for a paradigm shift in Vietnam's urban disaster risk governance. Future approaches need to go beyond the adjustment of physical infrastructure. Rather, the institutional configuration of risk governance itself needs to be adapted in order to mediate and integrate different types of risk reduction measures. These unfold across the increasingly divergent range of urban actors and their interests in terms of spatial scales, temporal scales, normative motivations, and capacities.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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