Life after the recent spate of floods in central Vietnam is so tough that many residents are wilting under the strain. All aspects of life seem to have been turned upside down, from food and housing to education and work.

A day after the historically devastating floods, farming families in Quang Ngai province started eating beef for the first time. Normally, their incomes are so low they never taste the meat, but this time it was a matter of survival.

Despite the risk of disease, they were forced to eat the drowned animals because the floods wiped out their rice crops and drowned their buffaloes and cattle.

In Nghia Hanh district alone, floods killed about 1,000 cows and buffaloes, 4,700 pigs and 67,700 chickens. Many survived on the dead animals for several days until emergency supplies reached them.

The floods that followed two typhoons sweeping in from the East Sea were at times made worse by the unannounced release of water from hydro-electricity reservoirs.

The extra deluge took many human lives and also destroyed farm houses, crops and farm stock.

"The floods left them with nothing," said Nguyen Van Thanh, head of the Hue-based Phuc's Fond charity group. "All they had were their bare hands to save themselves."

Thanh made many trips to provide urgent assistance after the devastation around Hue city and throughout Quang Binh province.

In emergencies, instant noodles are considered fast and convenient, but their nutritional value is not high enough to sustain people frantically working to stay alive. That's why many farmers turned to eating meat from drowned farm animals.

Survivors also had to spend many nights in the open as there were no dry or clean clothes or blankets left. This weakened them further, making them more susceptible to disease and making efforts to clean up the mess even harder.

According to Hoang The Vinh, an officer with the Hue Union of Friendship Organisations, even though central provinces are hit by floods and storms every year, few authorities have established offices to co-ordinate emergency assistance.

He said the union needed clear information about the needs in each area because it had to arrange for help from many international organisations and Vietnamese donors. "This time, we needed statistics about what people were desperate for, but authorities often failed to supply it," he said.

This meant many victims received little assistance or were given items that did not match their needs.

Nguyen Thi Hoang Ni, a charity volunteer, said the situation in Binh Dinh and Quang Binh provinces was similar.

She said many houses in both provinces were flooded to their roof tops, destroying stocks of rice seed for planting and children's school and exercise books.

Afterwards, many children held their note books in their hands and wept when they found most of their writing had been destroyed by flood waters. They were particularly grief stricken because they place their hopes for a better life in their studies.

Binh Dinh authorities have by now supplied about 2,000 tonnes of rice seed to plant out the winter-spring crops and 1,000 tonnes of rice to feed people on the verge of starvation.

This sounds like a welcome move, but most farmers feel the authorities have little idea what they are suffering.

The 200 farmers in Phuoc Yen village on the outskirts of Hue said they had to deal with most problems by themselves.

In early November, the super flood caused by the discharge of water from the Huong Dien and Binh Dien hydro-power plants covered their vegetable fields with silt. Farmers have now started growing nutritious rau ma vegetables from seedlings found in the forest.

"We have to replant the fields, and this takes time," said farmer Nguyen Dinh Cuong.

Another farmer, Le Thi Nu, said the floods swallowed 50sq.m of his field. "The width of the river has doubled and bank erosion is an ever present threat to our lives," he said.

The floods have not only taken all or most of what many farmers owned but also meant that life will not become easier, even in the distant future. The pain is made worse for those who lost relatives and friends in the disaster.

These are the main reasons farmers are calling for the Government's tighter management of hydro-power plants.-VNA