Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Update: Flooding in Thailand the Worst in 50 Years

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said today (October 27) Bangkok continues to combat the forces of nature as floodwaters threaten to break through dikes protecting the capital of Bangkok as residents took to the road after the government told them to leave if they had the resources to do so.

Regrettably, the urging to leave the capital by the government came to late in the game, as those who are able to leave will encounter road gridlock that could last as long as 100 miles. If the vehicles are able to even get through, they will find accommodations and food hard to come by. Most of them will try to reach Hua Hin or Pattaya, both of which are already filled to the brim with people who left the north days ago.

The country's worst flooding in fifty years, caused in part by unusually heavy monsoon rains, has thus far killed 373 people since mid-July and disrupted the lives of nearly 2.5 million.

COMMENT: Shinawatra, who is inexperienced and youthful, has only been in office since August. Unfortunately, her newness to being prime minister resulted in several US Navy ships leaving Thailand after offering assistance, largely because she was unable to exercise control within her government. Hence, the ships have since left the region.

Traffic in central Bangkok, a city of 12 million, was light as a five-day holiday, declared by Yingluck's government so people could leave Bangkok, began. However, a main road out of the city to the flood-free south was entangled in gridlock.

For thise at were attempting to leave by air, Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi Airport was clogged with people impatiently trying to get on domestic flights to anywhere. Don Muang, the city's old airport, now used mainly by budget carriers for internal flights, had to close on Tuesday and services were transferred to Suvarnabhumi.

The Central Bank has revised its growth forecast for southeast Asia's second-biggest economy to 3.1& this year from 4% as a result of the flooding. The finance minister's projection is a gloomier 2%.

The Defense ministry said 50,000 armed forces personnel were standing by with 1,000 boats and 1,000 trucks to help evacuate people.

Banks and financial markets will operate normally during the holiday from Thursday to Monday, although flooding has forced 295 branches to close, including 21 in Bangkok.

Britain warned against all but essential travel to Bangkok and 26 provinces currently affected by flooding. China urged its citizens not to go to Bangkok and told tourists "in the disaster zone" to leave immediately.

As a diplomat in Bangkok a number of years ago, I remember all too well, even then, that in an effort to find more space for people and buildings, the local government in Bangkok began to fill the thousands of klongs,or canals, in the city. Unfortunately, such an ill-conceived plan simply removed drain-off areas for flood-water to escape to. As a result, flooding has gradually increased over the years with today's plight being the result.

As I have intimated in earlier postings, and in addition to dealing with the scarcity of food, bottled water, cooking supplies, formula for infants, batteries, etc., the Thai government has waited too late into the game for orderly and proactive planning. Not only is there a severe risk of infection by walking in knee-deep brown water, but one forgets that Thailand's millions of poisonous snakes such as cobras and banded-kraits must also seek refuge and may infrequently bite humans in the process. To make matters a bit more complicated, Thailand must reckon with the fact that it is also one of the world's biggest breeder of crocodiles. Sadly, scores are reported to have escaped from farms during the floods.

A related risk during heavy flooding in developing countries is electrocution from downed power lines. Consequently, visitors and residents alike should avoid walking in deep water anywhere near downed power-lines that may be "hot."

Foreigners in Thailand are urged to register with their embassies if they have not already done so and tell them where you are. Additionally, they should monitor their governments' foreign travel websites and listen to local radio announcements on weather and road conditions.

Unfortunately, the Thai government has not handled this crisis well, so many residents are going to be on their own.

Please consider going to the following websites if you have connectivity:

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