With around 75 percent of Vietnam's urban population living in low elevation coastal zones, many people will be affected by rising sea levels, experts have warned.

Marginalised groups in urban areas, such as the poor, women, children, and the elderly were particularly sensitive to the stress of climate change, Nguyen Quang, manager of the UN-Habitat Programme in Vietnam, said.

"Climate-related disasters will compound the difficulties that migrants face in urban areas in Vietnam due to poor access to urban services," he told a two-day regional workshop that concluded on September 18 in Ho Chi Minh City.

Besides the economic costs, climate change also had a direct effect on key urban infrastructure, including transportation, water supply, and energy, and exacerbates urbanisation problems, he said.

Between 1990 and 2009 the country ranked fifth world-wide in terms of impacts of climate-related disasters, averaging 457 fatalities and GDP losses of 1.9 billion USD per year.

Climate threats and natural disasters would likely spark an additional migration of people to cities, he warned.

In Ho Chi Minh City, damage caused by natural disasters in the last decade is estimated at 12.6 million USD.

The city is among the top 10 globally in terms of exposed population. The majority of the poor in the city live along canals and drainage ditches and areas susceptible to flooding.

By the end of this century temperatures in southern Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City, would increase by 1.4 - 2.6 Celsius and rainfall by 1 - 1.9 percent, Le Ngoc Tuan of the city Department of Science and Technology said.

Sea levels were expected to rise by 75-100cm by 2100, he said.

With a rise of 12cm by 2020 and 17cm by 2030, Can Gio district would be the worst affected area, followed by Binh Chanh and Cu Chi districts, he added.

An average rise of 0.5cm per year will endanger 60 percent of Ho Chi Minh City by 2050.

With a one-metre rise corresponding to a high emission scenario (A1FI), 39 percent of the Mekong Delta would be inundated, as would over 10 percent of the Red River Delta, over 2.5 percent of the central coast, and over 20 percent of Ho Chi Minh City, Bao Thanh, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Climate Change, said.

Around 35 percent of the Mekong Delta's population, over 9 percent in the Red River delta, around 9 percent in the central coast, and 7 percent in Ho Chi Minh City would be directly affected, he said.

A National Strategy of Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation was approved in 2011, he said.

The urgent tasks to be completed between 2011 and 2015 included developing a master plan for socio-economic development in the Mekong River Delta that factors in climate change, upgrading coastal and river dykes, and keeping out saltwater from vulnerable areas that have an impact on food security, he said.

Quang said, "There is a need for a legal framework for strategic and participatory urban planning in Vietnam, with a focus on marginalised and vulnerable groups in urban areas."

Integration of climate change issues into appraisal of land-use planning and the housing construction regulatory framework was also vital, he said.

The country should promote private investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean development mechanisms, he added.

Nearly 50 Vietnamese and foreign officials and experts in urban development and climate change attended the workshop titled "Urbanisation and global environmental change - Southeast Asia" and organised under the aegis of the Urbanisation and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) project.-VNA