Thailand Floods: Been There, Done That

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(690 words)

On the topic of the recent flooding in 2011 in Thailand, I was able to access the thoughts of ten Bangkok university students to gather enough data to enlighten me as to how best to proceed with putting together my essay. I first questioned what they already knew about the subject and what their attitudes toward the flooding were. I left some guesswork up to such questions as to their general age and cultural status was.

One of the first questions I asked the ten people was whether the flood directly affected them. I wanted to know whether the water got into their houses. Of all the ten answers received, not one was in the affirmative. A unanimous “no” to such a question both surprised and pleased me since it meant my job was that much more straightforward. I knew now I had to bring the flood to them. My essay now had a clearer purpose, namely to make this ongoing crisis more of an urgent reality to be collectively acknowledged as opposed to a distant one as it currently seems to be for the ten people I spoke with.

I elaborated the first question further with another that asked if any of them had seen the floods personally. All but three said ‘no’, and even the first and second of those two had to get out via the train because of where they lived to avoid the water that may or may have not come. The third said there was water surrounding her neighborhood, but not enough to keep her from coming and going as she pleased. We also asked if any of them had trouble finding food. They all said food was easy to get, it was the clean water that people had a hard time getting.

I then conducted three polls, first I gave three choices to the question; Do you think the flood was natural, man-made, or both? Two said it was man-made, three said it was naturally caused, leaving a majority of the remaining five who chose both. Citing the tourism industry, poor management, and global warming as just some of the causes for why the flooding has been worse than it has in the past. The second poll, which asked whether the flooding will happen again, yielded yet another unanimous vote saying ‘yes’. This indicated that the group was well aware that the flooding is going to get worse and more frequent if something does not change very soon. When asked how soon the next major flood will occur, seven said “in the next few years,” with one each saying “within a decade,” “in the next three to four years,” and 5th final one saying, “possibly sooner, next year if the drains are not fixed.”

Additionally, going by observations and some guesswork, the general age varied between the early twenties and thirties; the cultural status, albeit somewhat irrelevant in today’s globalized world, ranges from Chinese to Thai to German; the educational level is college-level; their economic status is likely middle-class on average; their occupations vary; and their attitudes toward me as an interviewer were in all likelihood positive, considering I gave them little reason to feel otherwise.

Looking over the results, I was much more confident than ever about my essay because I was no longer preparing for it blindly. It was all too evident that the flooding had a far less direct impact on the people I interviewed. Although some were greatly affected by this terrible occurrence, I did my best to bring about how this problem happened, what to do to prepare for it, and were things wrong in the first place. I feel most of the audience while fortunate for now will not be so lucky in the future. It tends to give a false sense of security to the people of Bangkok when no clear organization was shown from the beginning of this tragedy. Bangkok is predicted to be underwater in the next few years, within all of our lifetimes. This is a problem that should be addressed and remedied as quickly as possible, something my essay aims to do.

Thailand flood 2011

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(448 words)

Thailand is prone to rainy seasons and granted too, there is an expectation Thailand will flood during these rainy seasons. Thailand has also experienced catastrophic floods before, the most recent being in 1995. However, what is not granted is when a newly industrialized country with the second-largest economy in Asia fails to manage a situation it has had so much experience in handling and lets a situation get so far out of control.

This year’s monsoon season was like no other. However, then, why, like in recent years, was the water build-up created from the unusually heavy monsoons not released. Why were there questions about drainage systems left neglected and un-dredged for years, and why was there no system in place in the event of such a situation?

While admittedly it can be difficult to understand Thailand’s politics and systems of governance, it was clear for all to see that everything fell apart during the recent flooding situation.

The response from the powers that be was seriously questioned. Serious mismanagement of information by inter agencies and ministries releasing conflicting information, and media outlets competing in a bid to see who could sensationalise the situation the most led to the people of Thailand ending up confused, frustrated, and frightened.

As such virtual anarchy broke out as supermarket shelves were left empty due to panic buying, People fortified their houses with sandbags and concrete walls, abandoned cars were left on bridges and highways and neighbouring provinces began fighting amongst one another, while senior political figures seemed to use the situation to bolster their image and point the finger.

Was this how Thailand wished herself to be seen by the rest of the world?

It has to be said that this is not the first government that has diverted incoming water. It has happened before as recently as last year.

The question is: why do governments both past and present continue to allow cities industrial zones, highways, and other infrastructure to build in areas that are prone to flooding.

It appears truly bizarre, does it not, that a country lures multinational companies and investors such as Honda, Ford, and Toyota to their shores with promises of low wages, great infrastructure, and free trade zones only to stand by and let their 14,000 factories and warehouses be destroyed by floodwater. It could have been prevented, that is, were preventative measures put in place?

It is disappointing that in this day and age a fast-developing country puts individual political and financial agendas before the welfare of the country. It has the air of a lack of respect and care for its people and offers little in the way of compensation for its victims.

Thailand floods – 2011

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The ongoing Thai flooding sucks with almost $50 billion in damages including another $25 billion to get everything back to normal. This is all thanks to 20 billion cubic metres of rain. That is a lot of money, and a lot of water, earning Thailand the dubious distinction of having had the world’s fourth most expensive natural disaster happen to them. The most expensive one also happened earlier this year, which was… ? The Japanese earthquake and tsunami. This sure has been the year for natural disasters, hasn’t it?

Moreover, this is to say nothing of the almost 13 million people who have had their lives turned upside-down. That is about the entire population of Belgium or Greece! Yet of the ten people I interviewed last week, not one person was directly affected by the flood. While that is all very well and good for them, it would not be smart to treat this incredibly fortunate turn of events as anything but temporary… because it is temporary.

I do not want to alarm you, although alarm may be what it will take to get you into action, but we all know there is no stopping the icebergs from melting, which means the sea is getting more and more water, and we all know Bangkok is below sea levels. Where we are concerned, that is not a very good combination. And this flooding? It pales in comparison to its predecessors, of which there were many, six in the last decade alone (!), with the worst in 1942 having the water twice as high as ours. Hence “been there, done that…” raising the question of just what on earth the government, both old and new, has been doing if not making sure there won’t be another flood. I mean, is that what they’re supposed to be doing?

Instead, they have been reacting to the crisis and, when that did not work, keeping us thoroughly confused. Take all these helpful quotations, for instance, in chronological order. The flood is coming, it is getting better, oh it is not, but it will soon, not that soon, very soon. Is it any wonder, then, that some people, like myself and my family, decided that it was now every man and woman for themselves?

I live right next to this smelly khlong that we did not care to have overflowing into our house. It has happened before in 1995 and got to about hip-high. With all the contradictions coming from the government, we thought, screw it, we will prepare for the flood first and ask questions later. We had concrete barriers built around our front and back doors, sandbags bought, and the necessary manpower hired to lift the washing machine and refrigerator above ground level. And bought a boat, too! All of which came to just about 10,000 baht, including the cost to demolish the concrete barriers when we figured the water was not coming.

But I was one of the luckier ones. For others, the water did come.