Observing Institutional Adaptation to Global Environmental Change in Coastal Vietnam

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"This paper examines institutional adaptation surrounding collective security from present climate extremes. A case study is presented in Nam Dinh Province, northern Vietnam, highlighting common themes from the restructuring of ownership and control of coastal resources throughout Vietnam's coastal Provinces and Delta regions. The study demonstrates that reduction of locally organised collective action for coastal defence and water management has been undermined by decollectivisation and the reduction of importance of agricultural co- operatives. Offsetting these trends, informal collective action, as manifestations of civil society, have contributed to reducing the overall increase in vulnerability to external environmental change. "Following a discussion of the role of institutional structure in determining social vulnerability to environmental change, this paper sets out empirical observations of institutional adaptation in Nam Dinh Province. Features of the recent historical evolution of collective action on hazards in Nam Dinh include the hierarchical operation of local and regional central planning under collectivised agriculture in the communist era; the inertia of this system in the light of both liberalisation and of changing environmental pressures; and concurrent institutional adaptation to cultural and political-economic factors within the District. The local level formal government institutions have, over the past three decades, acted as the facilitator for collective action to ameliorate the impacts of climate extremes and hazards. In the most recent five years under Doi Moi reforms, significant retrenchments of the government institutions have occurred, which essentially have decreased the importance of collective action and hence are shown to have enhanced vulnerability. The major reason for this is the concentration of resources and power in the coastal Communes. "Following the viewpoint that perceptions of vulnerability are primary determinants of political action, the perceptions of vulnerability are elucidated for individuals experiencing this risk. The role of institutions and culture in framing perceptions of vulnerability is therefore also addressed. Households perceive increasing risk because of the trend towards atomised decision-making felt by some disempowered households. In particular the legal framework which has changed the rights to property; the rapid economic growth in the Red River Delta; and the associated migration and remittances have all influenced the type of institutional changes which have occurred. "Data on the storm protection system in Xuan Thuy are presented, leading to an assessment of how Commune and higher level institutions seek to legitimise and retain their power over resource allocation, while concurrently implementing adaptation to the evolving social and physical environment. A number of 'core' Communes act within the District to retain political influence and determine actual resource allocation away from 'peripheral' inland Communes through the medium of coastal protection expenditure. As demonstrated by the empirical evidence from Xuan Thuy District, the short term goals of maintaining political power, as well as non-decision-making by bureaucracies, are important institutional causes of collective vulnerability."
IASC, coastal regions, social organization, communes, water resources, collective action, climate change