Extreme Rainfall and Flooding
A recent example of climate change related extreme weather in Thailand happened in December 2016. Twelve of Thailand’s 14 southern provinces experienced heavy rainfall that lasted for several days. The excessive rainfall led to massive flooding and devastation in these provinces and other regions including central Thailand, areas of the Malay Peninsula, and northern Indonesia. Narathiwat, the southernmost province in Thailand experienced around 226 mm (almost 9 inches) of rainfall in the first two days of December. This flooding event led to significant disruption in rail services in the surrounding area. It damaged around 2,400 hectares of farmlands and more than 360,000 people were severely affected, and approximately 14 deaths occurred. In response to the widespread flooding, the Governor of Thailand’s Surat Thani province identified 16 of the province’s 19 disaster areas; and small boats and vessels were warned not to venture to sea. Heavy rainfall still continued for several days, which increased the risks of landslides and flash floods.
Government policy-makers have expressed an urgent need for the implementation of disaster management policies, which incorporates flood management. However, residents from flood-prone communities have strongly opposed the manner through which these flood management measures has been proposed by the Thai government. One such flood management measure is the construction of flood protection walls, which is associated with growing debates from both sides. To address the necessity of constructing the flood protection walls, Pattanan Thongsawad, a demonstrator and local resident of Thailand’s flood prone village Yucharoen, argued, “We want more concrete walls all the way around our community. That is the only way I’ll feel secure. There will be more rain and more floods and we cannot rely on the government to deal with them”. In contrast, Gernot Laganda, a climate specialist at the United Nations Development Program Office in Bangkok highlighted the cons of building a flood protection wall by arguing, “It will be more important to build strong monitoring systems and to start building climate flexible systems. Instead of building high walls and river defenses today, it will make more sense to strengthen the foundations of existing structures so they can be raised as and when risks become more apparent.” Similarly, Surajit Chirawate, who sits on the senate environmental committee, argues about the cons of constructing a flood protection wall by saying, “People should not fight with the water. They should let it through. That is how we dealt with floods in the past. That is why Bangkok has so many canals. But now rich city dwellers are too distant from nature. What they are doing with their flood protection walls is actually increasing the level of the water”. Such debates are leading to increased uncertainties about the effectiveness of policies in place with respect to flood management measures. Therefore, Thailand still has a long road ahead for implementing an effective natural disaster management and flood control policy that will be successful in the long-run. Developing such policies will require a more transparent process, which can be achieved through joint collaboration between the residents from vulnerable flood-prone communities, citizens, Thai Government, policymakers, environmental planners and concerned stakeholders.
To learn more about the recent flooding event in Thailand, which occurred in December 2016, please visit http://www.air-worldwide.com/Blog/Floods-in-Thailand-Are-Regular-Natural-Disasters/
To learn more about the 2011 flooding in Thailand, the flood management measures proposed by the government post-2011 flooding and the growing debates associated with these measures, please visit http://www.climatecentral.org/news/partner-news/thailand-seeks-flood-prevention-plan-as-bangkok-clean-up-operation-con