People sitting around a long table with microphones. Map of part of Vietnam is behind the person at the end of the table

Dispatch from the UN Development Programme in Viet Nam: Kestrel DeMarco’s first blog from the virtual field

Photo credit: UNDP Viet Nam

By Kestrel DeMarco, MAGG

A few months ago, I opened my inbox to see the most exciting email of 2021 (so far). I found out I’d be spending six months working as a Junior Professional Consultant for the Climate Change and Environment Unit of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Viet Nam. Like many other students entering the workforce this year, my position is remote. Despite this, the opportunities to participate in UNDP Viet Nam’s important work have been plentiful, as have been the opportunities to (virtually) get to know my colleagues.

The project I’ll be spending the coming months working on is called “Improving the Resilience of Vulnerable Coastal Communities to Climate Change-Related Impacts in Viet Nam.” As a country with a long coastline, a high population density, and a dependency on agricultural land that is prone to flooding and drought, Viet Nam is among the countries at highest risk of climate change-related impacts. Of particular concern are rising sea levels and disasters that are becoming both more frequent and more intense. And though the worst is yet to come, these threats are already here. In the past few years alone, Viet Nam has experienced severe storms, flooding, droughts, and high temperatures, among other climate-related effects. So, while climate change is a problem that requires long-term thinking and long-term solutions, it simultaneously demands swift and effective action today. This project aims to address both long-term and short-term concerns.

I’m involved with the component of the project that focuses on increasing public and private sector access to climate, damage, and loss data that can be applied in all the 28 coastal provinces of Viet Nam. So far, the majority of my time has been spent supporting the risk-informed development (RID) aspect of this work. RID is extremely important in the context of worsening climate change-related effects. Development decisions today have lasting impacts and should be informed by all available information, including risk-related information.

The concept of risk-informed development is still relatively new, but luckily UNDP Viet Nam is working closely with the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) to ensure that future development plans factor in disaster- and climate-related risks. One of the most exciting components of the project that I’ve had the chance to be involved with was a virtual workshop, jointly held by MPI and UNDP, on integrating disaster and climate risk information into socio-economic development plans (SEDPs). It was exciting to witness diverse actors including provinces, ministries, and development partners coming together for the common goal of ensuring that future development planning is risk-informed.

I’ve also had opportunities to learn about other amazing components of the project that I’m not directly involved with. For example, through the project, poor and highly hazard-exposed people are provided with new houses that incorporate storm- and flood-resilient design features. So far, thousands of people have benefitted from these houses.

Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to upcoming opportunities to learn more and to be more involved with these exciting initiatives. Complications related to a 14-hour time difference and living thousands of kilometers away from the majority of my colleagues aside, my experience with UNDP Viet Nam thus far has been very memorable, and very inspiring. It’s been extremely refreshing to take environment- and justice-related concepts and ideas from my time at BSIA and apply them to solutions with clear, immediate impacts, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

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