Catastrophic flood and forest cover change in the Huong river basin, central Viet Nam: a gap between common perceptions and facts

Recent catastrophic floods in Viet Nam have been increasingly linked to land use and forest cover change in the uplands. Despite the doubts that many scientists have expressed on such nexus, this common view prompted both positive forest protection/reforestation programs and often-unwarranted blame on upland communities for their forest management practices. This study discusses the disparity between public perceptions and scientific evidences relating the causes of catastrophic floods. The former was drawn on the results of a questionnaire and focus groups discussions with key informants of different mountainous communities, whereas the latter was based on GIS and remote sensing analysis of land cover change, including a statistical analysis of hydro-meteorological data of the Huong river basin in Viet Nam. Results indicate that there is a gap between the common beliefs and the actual relationship between the forest cover change and catastrophic floods. Undeniably, the studied areas showed significant changes in land cover over the period 1989e2008, yet, 71% of the variance of catastrophic flood level in the downstream areas appeared related to variance in rainfall. Evidences from this study showed that the overall increasing trends of catastrophic flooding in the Huong river basin was mainly due to climate variability and to the development of main roads and dyke infrastructures in the lowlands. Forest management policies and programs, shaped on the common assumption that forest degradation in the upland is the main cause of catastrophic flood in the downstream areas, should be reassessed to avoid unnecessary strain on upland people.