- Published: 5/11/2010 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: News
Dozens of provinces nationwide remained inundated from the worst flooding to hit the country in decades. The toll has been heavy, with 122 deaths recorded to date, over 2 million people affected and economic damage estimated to reach into the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of baht.
No one could have foreseen the ferocity of this year's floods. But better disaster planning, coordination among state agencies and attention towards mitigating and managing the impact of industrialisation, urbanisation and climate change will help the next time the levees break.
From the northeastern provinces, through the Central Plain and now in the South, the floods have left a devastating trail of destruction over the past month. Hundreds of thousands of households have suffered property damage, including over 30,000 families in the southern city of Hat Yai, 80% of which still remains under water. For the 11 southern provinces alone, 196,304 households and 682,970 residents have been hit by the flood, according to the latest data from the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department.
Prices for key commodities such as rice and rubber have soared as investors anticipate sharp declines in output as farmers seek to rebuild their stocks and save the remains of this year's harvests. Over 8 million rai, or more than 6% of total arable land in the country, has been damaged.
Road and rail links, power and telecommunication networks will need to be rebuilt and restored. The tourism industry, heavily hit from the political violence that dominated the headlines in April and May, must now cope with a fresh blow to the country's image of reports of cancelled flights and ferries, stranded tourists and severed transport links.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, after a haphazard start, has in recent days stepped up his focus on the crisis, directing the armed forces and public agencies to ramp up their rescue and assistance efforts. The cabinet on Tuesday approved a 20-billion-baht assistance package, nearly three-fourths aimed at farmers. Households will receive 5,000 baht cash payments starting this week and up to 30,000 baht for home damage to begin the rebuilding process, a pittance perhaps, compared with the scale of the losses, but certainly better than nothing. Undoubtedly, more measures can be expected. But throwing billions of baht into relief aid, while proper and necessary, is insufficient. More resources must be given to improving alert systems and disaster planning to help minimise the human toll. In Hat Yai, many residents were caught off-guard by the flash flood despite evacuation warnings, suggesting either that the cautions were unheard or simply ignored. Urban planning, national irrigation strategies and flood control systems also need a drastic rethink, particularly when one considers the future threat that climate change and rising sea levels will have on Bangkok and other populated coastal areas in the years to come.
Thailand is no stranger to floods. Over the past three decades, flooding from unusually heavy seasonal rains has wreaked havoc on the country numerous times, including 700 deaths in Nakhon Si Thammarat in 1988 and 170 deaths in the 2001 floods in Phrae and Phetchabun. Long-time Bangkok residents may recall the historic floods of 1942, when key roundabouts at Suan Amporn and the Victory Monument became veritable lakes. We shall see similar scenes of devastation again in the future, so long as we continue to ignore the lessons of our present and past.
As Hat Yai embarked on a massive garbage cleanup, authorities admit they did a poor job of warning citizens of the floods. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
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