Matthias Garschagen, United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security, Bonn, Germany

Presentation Title: Risky change? Bridging state and non-state divides in Vietnam's transforming urban risk governance and drawing lessons beyond




The rapid transformation of Vietnam's cities is coupled with an increasing exposure to the projected impacts of climatic hazards. Resulting from both trends are substantial challenges for urban disaster risk governance, which remains poorly understood scientifically and politically under-emphasized. This presentation traced the dynamics of urban vulnerability and explored how the responsibilities and capacities for risk reduction and adaptation are negotiated and shared within the country's changing political economy, focusing in particular on the shifting roles of state vs. non-state actors. The research drew on twelve months of empirical research in Can Tho City, the demographic and economic center of the highly flood-and typhoon-prone Mekong Delta.

Key Lessons Learned

  • Considerable rifts exist between state and non-state adaptation actions.
  • The responsibility for adaptation is an increasingly sensitive topic – it will move up on the government agenda as climate change continues to impact cities’ infrastructure and resources, e.g., through increasing transportation and air pollution.
  • Adaptation is linked to political participation and political legitimacy.
  • The inclusion of state actors’ agendas and their perceptions are essential when doing adaptation assessments. These viewpoints are often neglected, especially in politically sensitive contexts.

Policy/Practice Implications of Research

A greater understanding, both scientifically and politically, of the dynamic impacts of urbanization and transformation on risk, vulnerability and adaptation, and the changing governance at the interface of state and non-state actors, could facilitate more successful and inclusive adaptation actions.

Knowledge Gaps and Needs

  • The adaptation of institutional mechanisms is needed, in order to more strongly integrate state and non-state adaptation action.
  • Both state and non-state perceptions of problems and solutions need to be considered.
  • Timelines, quality criteria, etc., must be re-considered in adaptation planning.
  • Although adaptation can be a trigger of change, it can also be slowed down by inertia and resistance in the wider system; hence, adaptation action should be embedded within the wider set-up of state-society relations.


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