In conversation with Dr. Ho Long Phi: “A new planning approach is needed to adapt to the uncertainty predictability of natural events”

The central provinces of Vietnam are experiencing terrifying tropical storms, leading to floods and landslides that have caused tremendous damage to both livelihoods and the built environment. This once again begs the question for our local provinces – how well-equipped are we to adapt and withstand the damages of natural disasters? We invite one of most renowned water and climate change experts in Vietnam and enCity’s Deputy Managing Director, Dr. Ho Long Phi, to share his thoughts with us.

It has been a while since Vietnam has experienced floods of this scale. Do you think we have been complacent in our preparation?

Storms and floods in the central provinces are annual events; the local authorities as well as the community have come to live with these occurrences. However, we need to take it a step further and understand these events in the context of climate change and its aggravating impact on natural disasters. To say that we have been complacent is partly true. We are used to dealing with this in the traditional way, which is to act according to predictions, or reactive policymaking and planning. This approach will no longer suffice as climate change makes the natural environment increasingly unpredictable.

Key figures of 2020 Central Provinces Flood.
Source: Vietnam Disaster Management Authority

What then should be our approach in weathering potentially bigger and more damaging storms in the future?

The three basic principles, or phases, in dealing with climate change include protection, adaptation, and resilience.

While the principle of protection has been built into urban planning, design, and development in the past, it will need to be enhanced to meet the increasing challenges that come about today. Due to climate change, many existing and upcoming developments will need to be re-examined and reinforced at various stages – from the design stage, to the planning, building, as well as maintenance stage. We need to invest in protective elements of urban infrastructure so that we can achieve a basic level of safeguarding for our people; this should range between 80-95% of natural events, depending on available resources.

Due to the impact of climate change and other uncontrollable factors, such as large-scale land subsidence due to groundwater extraction or rapid urbanisation, the abovementioned protections will be diminished as time goes by. Existing urban infrastructure will need to be retrofitted to allow for better adaptation to future events. To do this, green infrastructure, such as the rejuvenation of the natural water cycle through landscape architecture, may be the most practicable solution.

Natural disasters will not bring about such damage if we can minimize their impact on the economy and society and be able to quickly recover. Infrastructure solutions, including green infrastructure, are limited in their potential, while the extent of natural events and their impacts are limitless. As an example, it only took one event beyond the anticipation of engineers and planners to causemore than USD50 billion in damages in the Thai floods of 2011.

If protection and adaptation are mainly dependent on technical solutions, resilience is then a most comprehensive solution that requires the collaboration of various stakeholders in the economy, including government bodies, professionals and experts, businesses, as well as in the community. Depending on the circumstances, resources, and capabilities of each stakeholder, everyone can contribute to building up resilience to climate change. By coming together, we can put forth a new perspective and methodology, creating a ripple effect for innovative solutions to reduce the impact of climate change.

What is enCity’s role amidst this collective effort to deal with climate change?

As an urban solution provider, enCity focuses on the following two areas:

– Research and application of blue-green infrastructure solutions
– Development of urban management policies and frameworks to build urban resilience in areas that are more vulnerable to climate disasters.

This is enCity’s long-term commitment to develop innovative and effective solutions for minimising the impacts of natural disasters on our central provinces and elsewhere, and beyond that, to contribute to the struggle of humanity against climate change. This builds on work that we have done before, such as the creation of the MOTA framework (Motivation – Ability framework), applied to strategic urban planning in the context of climate change. In the short run, first and foremost as responsible members of our community, we have contributed financially to the relief efforts of the central provinces to provide essentials for the affected communities.

Thank you, Dr. Phi.


Dr Ho Long Phi is enCity’s Vice Managing Director of Operations and Research, and. He also leads our Water Resources Management and Climate Adaptation consultancy service in enCity. Prior to joining enCity, Dr. Phi held executive positions in both academia and government. He was the founding director of the Center of Water Management and Climate Change (WACC) at Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City National University Ho Chi Minh City, Deputy Head of Ho Chi Minh City’s Steering Committee of Flood Control, and a member of the National Advisory Panel on Climate Change. MOTA (Motivation – Ability), a framework he Dr Phi developed as a methodology that complements conventional performance-oriented approaches to assess plan implementation maturity and social adaptability from technical, financial, social, and institutional perspectives, has been adopted by experts in various several countries for strategic planning and policy uptaking. Dr. Phi is a frequent speaker at international conferences on flood management and climate resilience. He has been featured in newspapers around the world such as The Economist, The Guardian, and South China Morning Post.