UCRSEA Secondary Cities

Eight secondary cities in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam chosen by UCRSEA partner organizations form the core of the project:

Cambodia – Koh Kong and Battambang
Myanmar – Dawei and Bago
Thailand – Khon Kaen and Mukdahan
Vietnam – Lao Cai and Ninh Binh

The city selection process was conducted collaboratively among the in-country partners using agreed criteria. The selection criteria stress: i) the importance of potential climate change impacts in areas that are urbanizing; ii) identifying cities that are expanding with regional connectivity; and iii) cities that are easily accessible and with a history of some past engagement to facilitate access and partnership with key local state and non-state stakeholders.

The selection of target cities is critical for this project to understand the implications that contribute to the vulnerability of urban communities and their connection to urbanization and regionalization processes. Small- and medium-sized cities in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) are rapidly growing and increasingly connected physically, socially and economically at the regional level through infrastructure development, technology and development policies (Figure 1). Urban spaces in Southeast Asia are already faced with weather-related issues that will be exacerbated by climate change. As urbanization unfolds and intensifies, transforming ecological landscapes, social relations and patterns of governance, new sets of vulnerabilities and risks are created. Impacts of urbanization and climate change pose new challenges for local administration and citizens.

The “Data on Secondary Cities” provided the UCRSEA team with data on potential secondary cities in which to focus the Partnership’s activities in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The report was prepared by Lusha Zhou, a Masters Candidate at the University of Toronto.

Koh Kong is a coastal city in the southwest of Cambodia. Located in Koh Kong province, which borders Thailand, the province is home to part of the beautiful Cardamom Mountains, great natural resources and large protected areas. With its strategic regional location, Koh Kong is seen as the regional core of connectivity with Thailand, Phnom Penh and other provinces. Key regional investments in Koh Kong are threefold: 1) a special economic zone (SEZ) and industrialized zone connected to Thailand, 2) world class eco-tourism, and 3) oil and gasoline exploration. Urbanization is occurring at a rapid pace as infrastructure such as roads, bridges, drainage systems, hotels and a SEZ are under development. Even though hydropower is expected to make Koh Kong the battery of Cambodia, Koh Kong still lacks clean water and electricity. Storms and droughts are also key challenges. Knowledge and capacity building in climate change vulnerability assessment and urban development planning in Koh Kong can be transferred to other cities in the region, particularly those in coastal provinces.

Battambang is situated 300 kilometres from Phnom Penh in the northwest of Cambodia. Being the main hub of the Northwest and a vital link from Thailand to Cambodia, Battambang is experiencing rapid urbanization as many government-supported economic development and infrastructure projects are taking place. At the same time, three protected areas in Battambang are increasingly under threat from land concession and land encroachment for large-scale agricultural land development. Along with land clearance for cash crops and commercial farming, flooding has become more intense and seriously affects the whole province, also called Battambang. The city is part of the Asian Development Bank’s Greater Mekong Subregion Southern Economic Corridor Towns Development Project, and one of the towns for the pilot program for Climate Resilience for Cambodia. The planned development includes flood control, waste water systems, river embankment protection and sanitary landfills, among others. Battambang will serve as a model for sustainable town development in Cambodia, especially for other towns surrounding Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River.

Dawei is the capital of the Tanintharyi Division in southern Myanmar. Located at the head of the Dawei river estuary and bordering the Andaman Sea, Dawei features an extreme tropical monsoon climate. Flooding is a major issue, along with risks associated with a coastal climate including coastal erosion, sea level rise and saline intrusion. Rubber and palm oil plantations, as well as mining activities, have led to environmental degradation in the region (flooding, reduced water quality). Dawei is a strategic transport and economic hub as part of the East-West Economic Corridor. Among the planned developments are the Dawei Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a road and rail link to Kanchanaburi province in Thailand, and the Dawei deep-sea port linking the Indian Ocean to the Mekong Region. Regionalization is shaping urbanization processes in Dawei, and the city is expecting rapid population growth with 100,000 new jobs expected to be created by 2025 through the Dawei project. SEZ development and urbanization processes will place significant stress on existing resources, making the city and region more prone to climate hazards.

Bago is the capital of the Bago Region and the fourth largest urban centre in Myanmar. Located just 80 kilometres northeast of Yangon, Bago is likely to experience associated urbanization and industrialization. The city is rapidly urbanizing, most notably along the Yangon-Mandalay Highway. Regional investments include a SEZ currently under construction, and Hanthawaddy International Airport project, which in 2020 will replace the Yangon Mingalardorn airport as the primary gateway to Myanmar. Bago has a history of dealing with natural disasters. The city is located on the banks of the Bago River, and is prone to extreme and recurrent flooding in the monsoon season, including flash and river floods. Earthquakes have been historically recorded to seriously affect the region. On top of these risks, climate change is expected to put extra stress and have negative impacts on water balance and water availability, and bring about extreme events such as floods and droughts on the Bago river basin.

Khon Kaen is one of the four major cities of Isan, Thailand and is located in Khon Kaen province, the second largest of the northeastern provinces. With its strategic location as part of the East-West Economic corridor that links Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR and Vietnam, Khon Kaen is undergoing rapid urbanization and is expected to become the leading export centre for trade and the new transport hub in the Northeast. The push for Khon Kaen to become a regional city following the “Growth Poles” theory to reduce pressures on Bangkok has brought new development opportunities and investment into the city, including tourism promotions and a ‘green’ industrial processing centre. At the same time, natural disasters and emerging resource stresses pose major threats. Khon Kaen’s new construction, resource exploitation and land use changes put pressure on the province’s limited capacity to deal with increased waste, noise, water and air pollution, coupled with key natural disasters such as droughts, flood, storms and fires.

Mukdahan is located 642 kilometres northeast of Bangkok on the banks of the Mekong River, opposite the Lao city of Savannakhet. The capital of one of the poorest provinces in Thailand, Mukdahan is less industrialized than other East-West Economic Corridor hubs, but it is the second most important border cross-point between Lao PDR and Thailand. While agriculture, agricultural processing and retailing are still major sources of revenues for Mukdahan, the government is pushing forward a plan to promote Mukdahan as a special economic zone. With this plan, Mukdahan is experiencing rapid urbanization. Economic growth plans and the increase in industrial activities have changed land use patterns and caused negative effects on watersheds, water quality and water availability. Droughts, floods and storms are also key concerns for Mukdahan.

Across the river from China, Lao Cai is an urbanizing city in the mountainous borderlands of northwest Vietnam. The city is strategically important because of its location on the Haiphong railway to Yunnan province, China. A new highway passes through Lao Cai to connect Hanoi and Kunming, China’s regional centre, to facilitate increased trade and economic development. An airport is also planned to open in Lao Cai in 2020. Regional investments include border gate economic and industrial zones, a railway line upgrading project, a Fansipan cable car, and new hotels to boost tourism. In Lao Cai, land use changes as a result of the construction of new infrastructure, coupled with upstream deforestation, have created major resource stress in the region. The city’s urbanization exacerbates risks of flash flooding, landslides and water shortages that the city already faces. Climate change compounds these challenges with more intense storms and longer dry periods. Urban climate resilience is important in Lao Cai as the city faces existing hazards that are complicated by climate change impacts and urbanization.

Ninh Binh is a city located to the south of Vietnam’s northern delta, between the Red and Ma Rivers. About 100 kilometres from Hanoi, the city is easily accessible by road and rail transport, and is an important transport point from Northern, Central and Southern Vietnam. Home to the Trang An scenic landscape complex that is recognized as a World Heritage site, Ninh Binh is an international tourism destination in Vietnam. Investments in tourism, industrial zones as well as inland port expansion are contributing to the city’s rapid urbanization. As a coastal province, Ninh Binh is included in the list of the five of the provinces most vulnerable to climate change in the north of Vietnam. Flooding occurs annually, including severe and acute flooding that results in the destruction of homes, property and livestock, and contributes to the lack of a clean water supply. To cope with the compounded challenges of climate change and urbanization, Ninh Binh has developed Provincial Climate Change strategies.