Krung Thep Floods

Posted: 30/10/2011 by zandtao in ONE planet

I want to describe a glitch (apologies for my insensitivity in calling this a glitch – see addendum below) in the social fabric that is occurring in Thailand as I write this (Oct 2010) – it is considered a major natural disaster, it is certainly disastrous for the people living in some areas of Bangkok:-

This disaster has led to the government declaring a 5-day holiday for government workers in Bangkok. Whilst this is a pleasant palliative for some it does not solve the problem. Whilst it has stopped raining the flood waters are still rising. Factories are closing, electricity is off in places so the ATM’s are not working, and generally normal life has been severely depleted. At the same time districts far from Bangkok have had their livelihood affected. Prawn farms 200 km away have closed because the factories are not buying. There will be knock-on affects which I will feel as increased prices but they will affect ordinary Thai working people far more.

Above I said it is considered a major natural disaster, these floods would better be described as an accumulation of man-made disasters. They claim that the rains have been the worst in 50 years, I don’t know – they might be right (see addendum 20/1/2012 below as to why I have altered this viewpoint). Where I live in Eastern Thailand the rains have been no different. There is a river, not the Chao Praya, that flows through my town and it has overflowed its banks a little when the rains were excessive – a not unusual occurrence. Now the government has to maintain that the rain has been the worst for 50 years so they can blame the natural disaster. They might even have some proof of this, and there might be well-known scientists who have attested to this, but can you believe them when it is in their vested interest to blame other than the ruling 1% of Thailand?

Heavy rains are obviously a factor but nature has survived in Thailand through heavy rains. Are these rains increasing? That might be a question to ask when you consider climate change and global warming? Being a less powerful country Thailand is not able to affect the causes of global warming, but the possibility that the rains are increasing needs to affect their environmental policies to cater for the affects of increased rain; as yet they haven’t done that. You might consider that short-sighted but when you consider further aspects of short-sighted behaviour that pales into insignificance.

The first issue to consider is deforestation. There are major forest areas in the North of Thailand, and rich landowners have been cutting down trees. At the same time many of Thailand’s poor live in these regions so they have also been cutting down trees. Over the last few years there has been civil unrest amongst these poor to make the government aware of their problems but the government has done nothing. The forests protected the worst of the flooding that came down from the North.

But this is not the worst of the problems. The main river that leads into Bangkok is the Chao Praya river, and it flows down from the North. It is near this river that all the flooding problems are occurring. Around this river are beautiful places to live so many rich Thais, and not so rich, have bought land and built houses. Often this has required landfill including tributaries and marshlands around the Chao Praya river. Ways in which flood waters from the North could escape naturally from the river have been blocked off by short-sighted development leading to a raising of the water table in Thailand and particularly the raising of the level of the Chao Praya river, rising more and more as it comes into Bangkok and outlying areas. At the same time the Chao Praya river is a commercial waterway. This has meant that discharge from the boats has accumulated in the river raising its level. This raised water level, raised by man-made stupidity, is causing flooding in Bangkok and surrounding overspill areas.

Let’s consider the overspill areas to the North of Bangkok. Again we have the issue of landfill to build housing estates etc. Where does the water go? This question has not been asked. I know of people who have lost their homes because this question was not asked.

As for Bangkok it is at the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand, it is the natural area for flood waters to flow into the sea. Has the question been asked – where do the flood waters go? No. They have built. Bangkok is a business and commercial centre, a shopping capital of the world, with estates of people spilling out far and wide. And for a tropical country with a monsoon climate, no-one has asked “where do the flood waters go?” The ruling 1% were concerned with their profits and environmental considerations ate into them. Blame the government is the 1% tactic. The government is called corrupt, no Thai trusts them, and the problems continue.

South of the main shopping centres of Sukhumvit and Silom there are marshlands, the new airport, Suvarnabhumi, is built on marshlands. Where did the flood waters used to go? Marhslands and out to the sea. Where can they go now? Nowhere, the water level rises. There is a highway that runs through these marshlands, known as the BangNa highway. There is talk that they are going to have to break this highway in order to allow the water to escape to the sea. I hope this works. This disaster is man-made and the government needs to act to fix it. If they act it can be fixed. It will cost money. It will require a recognition by the ruling 1% that there is environmental fallout if they don’t accept that Thailand is a monsoon country. Bangkok’s 1% of rich and government have to find the money to build waterways up and down the Chao Praya river so that when the heavy rains continue next year the floods will not cause the damage.

Will Thailand’s 1% do this? I feel they will but I am not a good judge of Thailand being an outsider. One reason for calling it a glitch is that part of me believes Thailand’s 1% will do it, I hope that part is right.

But I also call it a glitch because Thailand is not broken, it’s financial system has not been irreparably damaged.

Addendum 23/11/2011

I realised after writing this that the word “glitch” is very insulting. There have been many people who have sadly lost their homes, and according to this article maybe 600 people have lost their lives. My heart reaches out to those people, in no way is this a glitch to them – and I did not mean to be so insensitive. My point is that in comparison with the devastation that the 1% are causing what is happening in Thailand will be nothing. Homes can be rebuilt but when the social fabric of our society has been completely destroyed leading to chaos – violence etc., there is no way back.

Addendum 20/1/2012

I am convinced that climate change has definitely hit Thailand so it might well be that last year’s rains were heavier than normal. Why am I so certain that climate change has impacted? By examining the way the seasons have been impacted. Normally where I am November is the winter season, in November there was still rain, and then it was warm. Normally following the winter season, the temperature gradually increases until April when the rains start. There is a celebration in April called Songkran, known as the Thai New Year, where people celebrate by throwing water over each other – a welcome relief in the hot times. What has happened this year is that December was the cold month, and instead of gradually warming up it has become hot quickly and rains have started. I joke with a farming friend that the rainy season has already started, but I can see she is visibly frightened. Without the hot season will the food grow? Despite what Farangs think about tourism, Thailand’s industry is primarily agricultural. With such drastic seasonal changes will that food grow?

It is important for Thailand to accept this climate change has happened, and not that the rains last year were a natural disaster. Thailand’s government needs to plan for climate change. They need a canal from the Chao Praya in Bangkok down to the sea – I guess I’m no expert. They need to do something, there is no real evidence that the government is doing stuff. Thankfully my own province is doing something. On the way to the beach I am disrupted by road works, the river and the reservoir are being connected by new canals. The racing bike part of me accepts being put on hold as the wisdom of such projects is evident.

  1. […] Last year I wrote about Thailand’s floods, a blogentry that has been updated. This week I spoke with someone who follows what the Thailand government has been doing in response to the floods. […]

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