1.2. Different population types and consequences as concerns vulnerability
Two types of central areas (centres) and three types of
peripheral areas (margins) can be distinguished. This depends on the
establishment of national territories and their present development.
* Central areas
The two types of centres concern the inland basins and
the deltas. The countries have been constituted either around inland fluvial
basins or from the head of a delta. This has been revealed by the downstream
historical displacement tendencies of the capitals. This is the case for Burma
(Mandalay and Rangoon), Thailand (Ayutthaya-Bangkok), and Laos (Louang
Phrabang-Vientiane). The capitals are in the inland and associated to the
principal rivers; Dhaka is situated 200 km from the Bay of Bengal on the
Burhiganga river, which name evokes a sacred river; Bangkok lies along the Menam
Chao Phraya which means "mother water" (DE KONINCK, 1994, p. 231); Hanoi is 100
km away from the sea, but indirectly associated to the Red River and its delta.
At last, the Royal palace of Phnom Penh "lies at the exact confluence of the
Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers where, twice a year, the latter reverses its course"
as a result of the Mekong floods (DE KONINCK, 1994, p. 266).
Historically, the roots of this part of Indochina underline the
great significance of the attachment to land and fluvial waters. The successive
migrations that constituted the populations in question, apart from the
Philippines, came principally from South China. They got to Indochina by simply
going down the valleys of the major rivers. The centres today are therefore
composed of one or several inland fluvial basins and their deltas associated to
their agrarian cities. The populations involved in foreign trade, particularly
the Chinese, unequally transformed these cities. Apart from Laos and the
Philippines, the current capitals are found in the deltas which are
characterised by a concentration of international investments. Inland basins and
deltas are particularly populated by the dominant ethnic group in power.
The consequences of all that has been mentioned above,
for these two types of central territories, tend to increase the
vulnerability to the various risks for two reasons:
- On one hand, the physical dangers, particularly in the
deltas, often have a high frequency and intensity yet there is an obvious
increase in the activities and infrastructures in the different capitals
despite the strong disparities from one country to another. The international
openings, logically, promote the urban growth (PIGEON, 1994) but they also
favour the vulnerability for a number of reasons.
First of all it is because of the growing pre-eminence of the
"commercial" districts over the "agrarian" ones (CLEMENT-CHARPENTIER, 1995).
This signifies an increase in the population density in areas close to water
bodies where, historically, the minority trader communities are found, among
which the Chinese communities. Then the same evolution as observed in Bangkok
takes place. Historically, the Thai people are known to have used canals
(khlongs) as a means of transport but people from the Western countries who
lived in the South closer to the sea supposedly had the first street built in
1861. This street was rapidly occupied by the Chinese "compartments"
(14) (CLEMENT-CHARPENTIER, 1995, p. 115).
14 Buildings used for both commercial and
This development leads to and favours the filling of the canals,
which plays a role in the floodings that affect the Thailand capital.
Moreover, the river dikes are weakened by the heavy construction
of buildings close to the rivers. This was observed in 1995 at Hanoi by
DRAKAKIS-SMITH & DIXON (1997) who stated: "recently, in Hanoi, uncontrolled
buildings within the restricted limits adjacent to one of the city's main dykes
was blamed for serious cracks appearing in this major flood control measure.
Typically, instead of total demolition, only construction within 5 metres of the
dyke was demolished, leaving some houses without any fronts, and even this was
bitterly contested by private investors".
At last the spreading of urbanization in the delta tends to
destroy the community relationships, does not encourage traditional agricultural
activities, and partly explains the degradation of dykes, canals, which also
play a major role in flood management.
On the other hand, the cultural heritages tend to aggravate
this vulnerability by minimizing the damages related notably to floods. In
these societies, except in the Philippines, farmers dominate. Therefore they
have been led to manage water, (maybe because of physical constraints since the
inland basins are principally sheltered from the monsoon winds) and have
obviously a particular, ambiguous, approach of the effects of floods on which
agriculture depends fundamentally.
In Bangladesh local populations refuse flood disappearance: "the
majority of the practising farmers were against the idea of preventing flooding
entirely, perhaps because of the way they adjusted their agricultural practices
to normal flood regimes" (RASIN & MALLIK, 1995). Even more, "these authors
indirectly state that the farmers were not totally surprised by the exceptional
floods of 1987. On one hand they were able to empirically predict the occurrence
of a more intense flood ("As heavy monsoon rainfall coincided with such rapidly
rising river levels, many farmers could predict the impending high-magnitude
flood"). On the other hand, they developed at least 19 different techniques in
order to minimize crop damages which makes the exceptional aspect of the flood
relative, as it was experienced by the local populations and despite the
importance of both human and material damages. In Thailand, awakening to the
environment-related problems is not so much linked than to floods as to possible
droughts like the one that occurred in 1994 (RIGG, 1995): 'Perhaps, it is this
ancient link between water, happiness and prosperity which accounts for the
fervent discussion which has accompanied Thailand's most recent water crisis".
Finally, the Khmers adapted their way of life to seasonal floods of the Tonle
Sap thanks to pile-dwelling, or even floating houses.
This therefore underlines the relativity of perception of risks,
if not disasters, by the local populations despite the significance of the
damages in case of floods with intensities above the mean values. This fact
should be taken into account in order to interpret the relatively few statistics
concerning the countries like Laos and Cambodia. It reveals the limits of a
purely technical response to the risks of flooding in a country like Bangladesh,
as mentioned by THOMPSON and SULTANA (1996).
* The outlying areas
Mountainous and coastal peripheral areas are in complete
contrast to centre areas and fluvial basins.
It is in the mountains that one can find the minority ethnic
groups, called the tribal groups, who generally practice agriculture considered
as less intensive, are of different religions and speak differently. In Laos,
the Lao majority represents only 55% of the population but is concentrated in
the Mekong plains. These Lao Lum (low Laos), Buddhists, differ from the Laos
Soung (Laos of the summits) who arrived last from China and are animists.
The contrasts are often strong between the summit populations
where shifting agriculture is practised and the populations living in the
valleys, where it is possible to find a more intensive agriculture. For example
this is the case in the north of Thailand.
The coasts have been, historically, considered as areas of
little interest which is manifested in the population aspects and distribution.
The city of Rangoon in Burma is an ancient Mort that was partially
transformed into a garrison by the Burmese, and developed by the British, so
much so, that the present Burmese in Rangoon "have never seen the sea" (LUBEIGT,
1997, p. 27). The Bengal coast proves to be associated to real pioneer fronts,
such is the case with the Thailand "Eastern Seaboard Development Programme". In
Vietnam, despite the anteriority of the Khmer presence, the Saigon area (Ho Chi
Minh-city), though associated to the Mekong delta, "provided but a base for a
wharf and a fort" at the time when the Vietnamese took over the city in the 17
century (DE KONINCK, 1994). However, at 200 km north-west, the significance is
known of the angkorian vestiges around the Mekong and Tonle Sap valleys just
upstream of the apex to the delta and in a territory that continually attracted
the greed of the Vietnamese.
As a matter of fact, the opposition between the centres and
the outlying areas favours a definite trend in political instability, be it
in the framework of both civil or international wars. Tensions divide the
dominant ethnic groups from the "tribal" ones, but also the dominant groups
amongst themselves. The international powers have not hesitated to capitalize on
these structural weaknesses within the framework of colonial policies or the
rivalry between the United States of America, ex-USSR and China. The historical
heritages are heavy, the suspicious attitude of these peoples in front of their
neighbours persists. At last, everybody knows how much the badly controlled
borders promoted all kind of illicit trading, in particular, in the famous gold
There again, the consequences of this tends to increase the
vulnerability in view of risks.
Risk management is obviously influenced by this partition of the
population types. The vulnerability of the major populations and that of the
marginal ones does not have the same significance in that the Governments will
be even less inclined to intervene in order to handle the risks concerning the
populations often considered inferior and badly assimilated. But these
populations are one of the poorest in the country and show, from estimations,
high illiteracy rates; they are, yet, established in the mountains or associated
to the coasts in the areas where the hazards generally have higher intensities
and frequencies. It is clear that cyclones and earthquake induced effects
(tsunamis for example) hit the coastal areas and the Arakan Yoma mountains open
to the Bay of Bengal more than the centre of Bangladesh or that of Burma. These
areas are, yet, very difficult to get to by road and the Ngapali station, on the
Arakan coast, is served by aeroplane on a daily basis only in the dry season
(LUBEIGT, 1997, p. 37). These are also areas which are not under the central
governmental control at the time when the effects induced by deforestation are
being denounced with lots of ulterior geopolitical motives. The Lao News
(April-June 1997) reported that "planning the eradication of slash-and-burn
practices: in the Lao P.D.R, shifting cultivation is causing an alarming amount
of forest destruction. According to the government's plan for the stabilization
of slash-and-burn cultivation, it will try to resettle about 100,000 swidden
families by the year 2000".
But at the same time, an increased political will has been
observed as regards opening-up to international trade, which induces to develop
infrastructures and to increase the human presence in these marginal areas.
The international opening-up is wished not only by the Chinese diaspora and the
former colonial powers but also by central governments. It therefore seems to be
following the development desired by Thailand and particularly China since the
Open-door policy of 1979. It is worth recalling that Vietnam changed its
attitude in relation to international investments by the so-called "doi moi"
policies in 1986 (DRAKAKIS-SMITH & DIXON, 1997), and joined the ASEAN in
1995. In November 1996, Laos, Cambodia and Burma were accepted into the ASEAN,
this admission being effective from July 1997 (Lao News, July 1997). The year
1996 was declared by Burma as the year of tourism. Some international
development projects appear such as the gold quadrilateral "intended to increase
trade within the highlands adjacent to Laos, Chinese Yunnan, Thailand and Burma"
(DE KONINCK, 1994).
The consequences as far as vulnerability is concerned are
numerous. These plans show a renewed interest for the mountainous valleys of the
principal rivers which may regain their privileged main-live function of trade
with China, their historical function (TAILLARD, 1989). This gave rise to the
railway projects in Laos. In February 1997, the Laotian government authorized a
joint-venture agreement with a company called "Pacific Transport Company" whose
aim was to make a train pass over the Friendship Bridge and extend the section
to Louang Phrabang then to China. The April 1997 bulletin of the Lao News adds:
"in addition to the construction of railways, the agreement talks about other
projects, including developing industrial zones". The increased international
opening-up also shows a renewed interest for the coasts, on which shrimp
breeding for export and also touristic infrastructures are found very unequally
distributed depending on the country (Bangladesh, Burma). Within such physical
frameworks, the increase in land value means, inevitably, an increase in the
vulnerability and suggests an interest to associate preventive measures against
certain physical hazards to economic development.
The above considerations allow the identification and
justification of five territories prone to