Can Thailand Avoid Becoming a Modern-Day Atlantis?
Image Credit: Wikicommons

Can Thailand Avoid Becoming a Modern-Day Atlantis?


When Adri Verwey, a Dutch flood expert, arrived in Thailand in early October last year, the country was struggling to prevent a wall of water from flowing southwards to Bangkok. It was also struggling against itself.

Government departments were working alone – even sometimes against each other – and in charge was a weeks-old administration led by a relative unknown in Yingluck Shinawatra trying to protect the opposition-run capital.

“There were these political problems,” says Verwey, a consultant with Deltares, a Dutch institute specializing in flood solutions.

Contacted by Thai authorities through the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok, Verwey was soon taking charge of crisis meetings involving the new prime minister, the army and numerous ministries as they tried to plug leaking dykes and flush water out to sea via poorly maintained flood channels.

“With a good master plan this could have been foreseen and prevented,” he says. “That is the nature of human beings: Something has to happen before action is taken.”

So how well is the country prepared for next time?

Nearly a year on from Thailand’s worst disaster in living memory, and the fourth-costliest in the world ever at an estimated U.S. $45 billion, significant progress has been made, say flood experts including Verwey. But there is also still plenty to do.

In a key step, the government set up a super committee chaired by the Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi designed to oversee water management and connect all the moving parts, a major problem last year when the country’s two biggest dams were already 90-percent full when a series of tropical storms hit.

At the end of August, the cabinet allocated over U.S. $20 million for water management in addition to the funding that had already approved earlier this year. Part of the money will be spent on a national flood monitoring command center with the help of Dutch firm AGT International which has designed a similar system for the Yellow River in China.

The army spent three months dredging more than 500 kilometers of canals in Bangkok, more than 2,000 Thai civil servants have been sent to South Korea to learn from experts in Seoul and Thailand has in turn received similarly qualified Chinese in Bangkok.

Some of these measures are short-term and others – like the computerized flood command center – will take longer to get up and running.

In the meantime, the many factories that make up Thailand’s industrial heartland to the north of Bangkok have taken matters into their own hands.

Mostly positioned a matter of a few kilometers from the Chao Phraya River on its main flood plain, these industrial zones were wiped out one by one in October of last year as water levels reached four meters in some places disrupting production at the likes of Hitachi, Nikon, Sony and Honda.

Last week, bulldozers were putting the finishing touches to a reinforced wall around Hi-Tech Industrial Estate, defenses that have been replicated at a host of other manufacturing zones nearby. All are nearly complete.

Vic Matthews
November 6, 2012 at 00:17

The article should have been titled "IS BANGKOK THE NEXT ATLANTIS?."  Not bad, although the exact effect of climate change has never been competently measured.  It is reflected by the ambiguity of the subject in the article.  Was this the 100-year perfect storm, the 250-year storm, government mismanagement or what?  It's confusing to me and the author's postulations are weak and undermine the argument.  
If you want to say it's climate change, go ahead and say it without contradicting yourself.  Although the author raises  valid points about the precarious state of Bangkok and surrounding economic estates it doesn't accomplish anything other than stir bogus fear.  Bangkok will sink into the swamp no doubt, just like other cities built on swamps like New Orleans and Venice.  And yet they are still cities…

Farang Cowboy
September 18, 2012 at 22:05

Nonsense. I've lived in Bkk for over a decade and was here for the flood.  The flood was caused by Government mismanagement. They were warned to drain the run off in the spring and they refused.  Now large amounts of the money that was supposed to go for projects to prevent this from happening again have ended up in certain politicians pockets.  The city may be below sea level but the officials are even lower.

September 16, 2012 at 21:44

It was the worst luck that a genuinely elected government for just one week had to battle with flood problems that had developed over 50 years of incompetent army rule.  Shiniwat will get slammed again this rainy season but some problems have no solution and Bangkok's geography/existence is one of them.  Bangkok may be the first of several urban centers that will have to pack up like a refugee.  This stress will not help Thailand's struggle to become a free country.

Nico Wojciechowski
September 10, 2012 at 16:06

Thailand needs to move the economic center out of Bangkok. Bangkok could stay still as the touristic capital of Thailand. 

Sin Lok
September 9, 2012 at 23:50

Damn it transfer those harddisk factory to somewhere high up I need an upgrade! 

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