Bangkok Floods – Lessons

I’m in a reflective mood so I would like to look back at last year’s flooding. The above is a topographical map of the Bangkok district Chatuchak where I live. My home is located pretty much in the centre of the district either in a green or yellow area – I haven’t quite managed to pin point it because the sois (lanes) are not uniformly distinct on the map. If we were located in a green area the Government advised that we could be expect to be flooded to a level of 70 – 130 centimeters. This was of some concern as the ground floor (British system – first floor in Thailand – I’m always getting confused – especially in lifts) of our house is just 60 cms above the ground/street level (I measured it carefully). If we are in a yellow area we could expect to receive 20 – 70 cms of flooding. As it turned our soi remained dry as well as our home. All that carrying of furniture and equipment upstairs was to no avail apart from giving me a much needed workout. Others were not so fortunate. Only a stone’s throw away other sois and homes were flooded. The above map therefore was not entirely accurate and to be relied upon as there are great variations (and a matter of a few feet is a great variation in this flattest of cities) at a local level.

This is at the “old airport” at Don Muang which is just opposite my son’s school which had to be closed for the duration.

So why did we experience these great floods in Thailand in 2011 and why is there so much damage? There are several contributing factors. Some natural some man made:

1.    Rain

There was so much of it during 2011. Now at the risk of severely boring my readers I will insert some rainfall statistics for the north of Thailand in the March of 2011. Stephen Hawking was advised that for each equation he included in A Brief History of Time would halve sales. It was a runaway success but Hawking having initially resolved not to have any equations at all did in the end include one, yes I’m sure you know it, Einstein’s E = mc2. Just imagine what sales might have been had he left it out – could have exceeded Harry Potter.

Well now my readership has halved instantly to single figures (from single figures).

…….and the following months through to end September similarly recorded well above average rainfall. Where does it all go? Well into dams (the largest in Thailand recorded above), to irrigate the rice paddies of the Central Plains and, by various meandering and slow ways, to the sea. There was just too much water in the year to cope and this was the consequence.

2. Water Mismanagement

As in many other countries in the world, water management in Thailand is politically laden. At a macro level this is a balancing act between holding enough water in the dams to meet agricultural demands in the dry season, i.e., to enable two crops of rice in a year and releasing some to ease pressure of water build up and to allow excess to drain. Normally the civil servants control this in conjunction with the politicians. However mid year we had a 3 month political vacuum resulting from the change of power between the Abhisit and Yingluck administrations. The result that little to no water was released at all from the dams until too late.

3. Deforestation

Whilst it is still a beautiful country it is shocking that one can clearly make out Thailand’s political boundaries from Space (not that I have been to Space) as the country has undergone extensive deforestation certainly comparative to our neighbours; Burma, Laos and Cambodia. It is a sad reflection on mankind that our ecology and natural habitat seems safer in an environment of conflict and poverty. All those trees which acted as natural sponges are gone.

4. Development on the Flood Plains

Filthy lucre wins out again. Once north west of Bangkok was predominantly rural with an extensive system of orchids, canals and paddies. Now there are factories, roads and housing estates. I recently watched a fascinating film clip that has been doing the rounds of the King of Thailand lecturing the cabinet of the dangers of opening up the west and north-west of Bangkok to development without putting in adequate flood defences. The King is highly revered and as you would imagine the politicians were pictured all ears and attentively writing down notes. The amazing thing is that this film was shot some 30 years ago. Clearly his sage advice was ignored in the “interest” of economic development.

5. Lack of Personal Responsibility

There is no escaping the fact that I too am implicit and culpable in all of this. I’m a proud owner of a Honda City which was built in the Honda plant in Ayudhya – slap bang in the Central Plains. Incidentally it will cost Honda (or their insurers) some USD630m to repair their flood damaged plant. My household electricity consumption is appalling – The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) had to rewire the family compound to accommodate my family’s air conditioners, electrical appliances, outsized fridge etc – all this comes at an environmental cost – think of Thailand’s (and China’s) insatiable thirst for power – the potential cause for more ecologically damaging dams in Laos.

We cannot blame others, i.e., politicians, without factoring our own involvement in the overall scheme of things. Afterall it is our desires and demands which largely determine, in a democratic country at least, the actions of our governments.

We seem to have lost our way.


About The Weary Traveller

I like to walk up and down hills. I've been so very fortunate to have lived most of my life in the Far East (Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the Middle East (Qatar, Oman and U.A.E). I now live and work in Bangkok. I'm past the half century now and can't help but feel that some of the mountains that I've climbed lately I should have done yesteryear. The mind is willing if the legs are not always so. Here are some stories and realized dreams of hills climbed and, dales and deserts crossed. With a bit of art thrown in. I hope you might enjoy.
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3 Responses to Bangkok Floods – Lessons

  1. In case I am your only remaining reader I shall make a comment.
    Thought provoking stuff! I fear that in a couple of decades time, Thailand’s boundaries will no longer be discernible from Space i.e. her neighbours will be equally deforested. Great photos. I suggest you post a link on Al Gore’s website to boost your readership.

  2. timhannay says:

    Thanks for confirmating you haven’t been to space. I was wondering.

  3. timhannay says:

    Just confirming that confirmating is not a real word.

    (A la Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder winding up Robbie Coltrane’s Johnson following completion of his opus in Blackadder the III: “May I offer you my hearty contrafibulations. I shall return interfrastically.”)

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