Project Description

Aims and Objectives

The purpose of the programme is to prevent damage to life and property and in particular, to reduce the vulnerability of the family and community to typhoon and flood damage to their homes and community buildings. This helps to address problems caused by the regular economic loss and persistent poverty caused by typhoons and floods, thus achieving a more stable basis for future development.

Programme context

With 44 million people (i.e. 53 per cent of its population) living in coastal lowlands and delta regions, Viet Nam is the continental country most exposed to sea level rise and its associated hazards. Central Viet Nam is only 50 to 100 km wide with approximately 500 km of coast directly exposed to the sea. It is hit each year by an increasing spate of floods and cyclones and there are indications that the scale and frequency of these events is increasing, due to climate change as well as direct human intervention (deforestation and urbanisation). The Thua Thien Hué Province where the programme is located is one of the most disaster-prone provinces in the country, with 60 to 70 per cent of the total population at risk of losing their homes and livelihoods (primarily fishing).

Two groups are particularly at risk: the extreme poor who live in extremely vulnerable conditions and those who have invested in improving their housing, but without applying the basic rules of storm resistant construction. These costly structures are easily destroyed, even though they are made of more durable materials that are more durable and leave the family heavily in debt. DWF surveys show that 70 per cent of recently built houses are weak and exposed to damage. The immediate disaster relief system in the area is well organised by the Government and loss of life has been reduced dramatically in recent years. However, after each disaster families are left to cope with reconstruction of their homes and livelihoods using their own meagre resources, with little support from the Government, other than immediate relief in the immediate aftermath.

Key features

The activity at the heart of the programme is encouraging families and communities to apply the ten key principles of safe storm and flood resistant construction, both to existing and new homes and to community buildings. The ten safe construction principles promoted are essentially generic, applying to the shape of the building, location, roof angle, reinforcing, closable doors, good connections between structural elements and tree planting. Most important of these are keeping the roof covering on the roof, being able to seal the house with doors and windows/shutters and achieving a degree of stiffness and solidity in the wall and its structure. Households are urged to include these, even if the other measures are not included, either for reasons of cost or its appearance. Almost all the techniques and principles existed and were applied in some form in traditional housing, but have since been lost with increasing reliance on ‘modern’ materials. The programme began in 2000 and is ongoing. Future phases from will extend the programme to additional provinces in Central Viet Nam, and this has begun with support from the International and Vietnamese Red Cross in 2010.

The houses of more than 2,000 low-income households have been strengthened directly as a result of the programme. However, having seen the ability of these houses to withstand floods and typhoons, many other households in the local communities are choosing to use the safe construction principles in their own homes. DWF also works with local commune governments (each covering four to five villages) to develop five-year Commune Damage Action Plans for the whole community as well asstrengthening existing public infrastructure and building safe new schools, markets and health facilities. The programme also works to raise community awareness of storm and flood damage prevention methods, as well as building capacity in the local communities so that effective and coordinated action can take place when disasters strike. A high emphasis is placed upon spreading messages of safe house construction and disaster prevention and this is carried out through a variety of media, including children’s theatre and painting competitions. DWF also works with schools to train teachers about disaster prevention and runs workshops with children, who are then able to relay the messages to their families.

In summary, the seven key areas of the programme are:

  • Demonstrating building strengthening methods.
  • Developing skills in safe construction methods through training of local builders.
  • Making damage prevention a priority through participative awareness raising using theatre, concerts, community events and displays.
  • Promoting affordable credit for improvements aimed at house strengthening.
  • Building schools using the recommended storm-resistant methods and training teachers and children about disaster prevention.
  • Developing the institutional environment, through the creation of Commune Damage Prevention Committees in each community.
  • Preparing commune damage prevention action plans together with local communities.

Covering costs

Funding for the programme has been provided partly from international funds, including from 2004 to 2009 from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department’s disaster preparedness programme (DIPECHO), together with local organizations and the households themselves. From 1999 to 2008, US$2,550,000 was received in grants and US$400,000 from local contributions. Families contribute approximately 60 per cent of the cost of the strengthening works to their houses themselves, whilst the contribution from DWF has reduced. Construction costs are increasing rapidly due to inflation and rising fuel costs. The current cost is US$60 – 75 per m² for a house, and this can be strengthened for about 15 per cent additional expenditure.

Local and community contributions are defined after surveys have been completed on the property. Cost estimates and contributions from the household, the commune and DWF are set out in an agreement. In reinforcement work, labour is provided by the households, and when a new house is built the household also contributes cash/materials. Local lending institutions now take an increasing role in providing credit for households to carry out these activities.


Prior to the DWF programme, families frequently lost part or all of their homes and each time the cost of recovery was huge, with the family having to borrow to meet this cost. Strengthening the house means that when a natural hazard hits the region, families no longer have to bear this cost of recovery and this enables them to channel their budget to other, more productive activity. They are beginning to improve their homes, since they now feel they are secure and permanent structures. There has also been a reduction in the number of people killed and injured in floods and storms as a result of the living in houses that now provide substantial protection. The Commune Damage Action Plans developed as part of the programme benefit all members of the community, not just those who receive direct support for their house improvement.

The programme has contributed to changing provincial and national understanding about the role that families and communes can play in reducing vulnerability in general and in reducing the level of damage to their homes in particular. At provincial level, the policy and strategy has changed, with the techniques and the approach taken by DWF being adopted. The provincial government has issued a recommendation to all district and communes that these techniques should be applied. This was issued in the aftermath of Typhoon Xangsane in 2006 and stated that DWF principles had to be applied to houses and public buildings to avoid further damage. Work continues to ensure that this recommendation is being implemented.

Safe house designs and training have been provided to other NGOs working in Viet Nam. The provincial Department of Construction is working on the formal approval and dissemination of the DWF techniques and a guidance publication has been produced by the Department based on DWF designs and it has asked DWF to train its staff in safe construction methods.

The key indicators of the success of the programme are:

  • The ability of houses and public buildings to resist the effects of typhoons and floods. Evidence of this is that, whilst Typhoon Xangsane in October 2006 caused extensive damage to 20,000 houses and unroofed a further 275,000 in the three central provinces, those strengthened under the DWF Programme withstood the impact with hardly any damage. In the most affected communes, virtually all non-DWF houses were damaged and only five per cent of the DWF houses suffered very minor damage.
  • The readiness of families and communities to contribute financially to this process.
  • Increased public and technical awareness of the need to take preventative action to strengthen buildings and knowledge of how to do this.
  • Sustained knowledge amongst local builders about how to strengthen buildings. The presence of DWF in the area over a long period of time has given confidence to the local commune leaders who seek DWF’s advice and support on a range of disaster related issues, as do members of the provincial government.

Why is it innovative?

  • Recognising that housing and public buildings can be strengthened to resist disasters/hazards and that this can be done economically and efficiently.
  • Making communication as important an action as technical action, targeting a long-term change in attitudes.
  • Creating functions within the commune structures to act as the programme interface and implement technical and communication actions.
  • Using targeted credit from local financial institutions for house strengthening.
  • Establishing the first and only website dedicated to flood and storm control in Viet Nam and sharing and exchanging information with the commune authorities.

What is the environmental impact?

  • There is a reduced rate of material use for reconstruction once strengthening has been carried out, as the houses do not need to be constantly repaired and rebuilt.
  • Reduced use of timber leads to reduction in deforestation rates.

Is it financially sustainable?

Funding for the programme comes from a range of sources, only half of which rely on external donors. An increasing role is being played by the local communes in supporting the work and it is anticipated that local lending institutions will be able to support the necessary credit mechanisms (see below).

The programme reduces economic loss caused by damage or destruction of homes and public buildings and enables families to focus their resources on their income generation activities. Employment generation opportunities have helped to increase the income of households, especially those who have received the training in safe construction building skills. Training is provided to local builders in all communes where DWF works, in order to improve the general quality of construction and to develop a broader range of skills in disaster resistant construction, assessing the points of vulnerability and what needs to be done to the properties to increase their resistance. To date, over 500 builders have been trained. Trained builders work on local construction programmes, but also act as building advisers to families in the community. DWF also trains local architects and engineers in the province. The provision of safe harbours for the communes located on the coast or shores of the lagoons help to ensure that the fishing boats which are often the sole means of earning a living are not lost at sea.

Although this programme does not address affordability directly, it reduces the cost of recovery and this has a significant impact on household economics and well-being, reaching all aspects of family life. It is estimated that an average family, over the years, will have invested US$1,000 to US$1,600 in kind or in cash in replacing their house after damage or destruction by cyclones, storms and whirlwinds. The additional cost of the reinforcement varies from 15 to 30 per cent in addition to normal construction practices, but is recouped quickly as there is no longer any need to repair or rebuild regularly. Four hundred and thirty families took advantage of an affordable credit scheme that was piloted between 2001 and 2004. Families showed that they were keen to take this opportunity and were good at making the repayments and so similar schemes are now being established with local banks. With financial support from the Ford Foundation, DWF negotiated with the Social Policy Bank of Viet Nam  to provide house strengthening loans as of 2009 to poor families, and 480 have so far benefitted in Thua Thien Hué province.

What is the social impact?

Village assemblies are involved in selecting those in their community who are eligible for inclusion in the programme. It is important that the process should be seen to be a collective and fair decision. Criteria include the need for rebuilding or strengthening, the household’s ability to help carry out and fund part of the work and their enthusiasm for the programme.

DWF has worked with local commune leaders to establish a Commune Damage Prevention Committee in each partner commune in the Thua Thien Hué Province and this committee acts as an implementation partner at commune level, as well as helping to strengthen institutional capacity to develop action plans for vulnerability and poverty reduction. DWF has also supported the development of a Communes Disaster Network that encourages communes with experience of working with the DWF programme to help other communes develop their own damage prevention action plans. DWF promotes democracy in the village decision-making process to ensure equitable selection of partner families and a balanced gender approach. Of those households benefitting directly from the project, 35 – 40 per cent are women-headed.

DWF works at village level to provide kindergartens, giving children early access to education. DWF emphasises the role of women in all its activities and much of its work is with women, whose role and position in society is promoted and advanced as a result.


  • Initial scepticism by government agencies that the houses of the poor either merited, or could be, strengthened against floods (this barrier was quickly overcome when the houses remained standing in typhoons).
  • Lack of national support to families when damage does occur or for prevention work (on-going process of advocacy to encourage greater support).
  • The communes have very low budgets allocated to disaster risk reduction and often have to borrow when it comes to repairing damaged public buildings.
  • High cost of credit initially has been addressed through the provision of credit for strengthening at affordable rates.
  • The poverty of some families and the weakness of some families’ shelter mean that their home cannot be strengthened, as there are not enough structure/durable materials to work with. In these cases it is necessary to rebuild the house and DWF allocates part of its funds to the government’s Temporary House Replacement programme to ensure that safe construction features are applied in these new buildings for those on extremely low or no income.

Lessons Learned

  • The preventative strengthening of the houses of the poor is viable and efficient in terms of cost, performance and social acceptability.
  • Disaster prevention has to start at the community level and for programmes to have a wide-scale impact; families need both financial and technical support.
  • Whilst families may have other priorities in their lives (education, health and income generation) they recognise that the house is a key component in achieving these priorities and are prepared to invest.
  • The visible solutions, e.g. ribs on the roof, have not always matched important local values of perceived beauty, so that the buildings of the poor call for architectural care and quality as much as technical and built quality. Safety is important, but so is beauty.
  • Each building has its own needs, strengths and weaknesses and it is important to respond to these micro-architectural requirements.
  • Introducing innovation takes time for both beneficiaries and community leaders.


The programme has been evaluated three times externally, both as specific programme evaluations and as part of broader donor evaluations and in 2010 an impact study funded by World Habitat has also been carried out.  These conclude that the actions are cost efficient, well managed and effective.


The programme is being progressively adopted by communes and by provincial authorities in Viet Nam. Communes who have worked with DWF for some years help those who have more recently become involved in the programme. Households not directly involved in the programme are increasingly adopting all or some of the ten principles of safe construction for use in their own homes. The performance of DWF houses in recent storms has been a major factor in encouraging this.

DWF provides training for many other NGOs and local governments in Viet Nam. For example, technical staff trained by DWF have provided safe house designs to organisations such as the Vietnamese Red Cross, CARE, Malteser, Compassion International and Save the Children. DWF also works with the national government’s Temporary House Replacement Programme to provide advice and technical support in relation to the safe construction principles.

DWF is collaborating with the Association of Vietnamese Cities to take the approach to other provinces and efforts are being made in 2010 to obtain funding for scaling up of the programme as there is strong capacity for transfer.

Examples of international transfer include:

  • Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where after the 2005 tsunami, DWF developed a long term ‘safe house’ strategy and programme for the British Red Cross.
  • In the Ayerawaddy delta region of Myanmar after cyclone Nargis (2008), DWF has developed the programme, strategy, skills and local capacity to apply the principles of cyclone and flood resistant construction to schools and houses with Save the Children in Myanmar (lead agency Save the Children Fund UK).
  • More recently, after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, DWF has been developing both the strategy and materials for integrating cyclone and earthquake risk reduction into reconstruction and future building with the community, collaborating with Save the Children in Haiti.