Saturday, October 22, 2011

1983, 1995 and 2011: The more it rains

Bangkok Post

Weak infrastructure planning, an exploding population, buildings obstructing waterways, too many poorly planned roads _ they're all valid reasons why Bangkok is threatened with flooding. Sound familiar?
"Instead of seeking long-term betterment, we accumulate the difficulties by focusing merely on solutions to the immediate problems such as digging more outlets and pumping out the water as quickly as possible," wrote Kasem Chandranoi, director of General Affairs, Office of the President, Chulalongkorn University for the Bangkok Post in 1995.

"This, despite the fact that we are very well aware that Bangkok will certainly be flooded again and again when the rainy season arrives each year."
SOAKED STREETS: Above, Sukhumvit Road in the 1983 flood. Below, passengers on the Vibhavadi Rangsit Highway had to lend a hand after the engine stalled, paralysing traffic.

The article was headlined "Flooding is a result of bad planning" and could well be placed on the news pages of the same paper today, without anyone noticing it is 16 years old. It should have been prophetic.

"It is regrettable that Bangkok has no proper city planning," the director wrote. "Construction flourishes based on the influence of business and political personalities who make decisions without consideration of Bangkok's real topographical and geological conditions. The city then becomes the dumping site of all traces of disorder."

Looking even further back to the flood of 1983, which paralysed the capital, Mr Kasem touched on familiar themes such as dredging of the Chao Phraya and the raising of roads on the embankments with water pumps installed. Dykes similar to those built in Amsterdam are also suggested.

He also warns of the inevitable flooding from the dams to the capital's north after they reach capacity and recognises that Bangkok is in a "monsoon" zone and seasonal flooding is inevitable, although traditional times stilt homes were better suited to cope with the seasonal waters.

Even in 1995, "the eastern part of Bangkok and Thon Buri areas which are already difficult for flood prevention", with what were then "fruit and rice fields" abandoned to the floods.
His warning was prescient: "The environs of Bangkok are increasingly frustrating and the flooding will be more and more intense. That is why there has been an outcry for Bangkok to stop growing. Importantly, the laws on the control of city growth must be solid and strictly enforced."

Was anybody listening?
More Splash from the Past by the Bangkok Post multimedia team: History repeats itself


1983: Four months, September to December.
1995: Two months, October to November.
1983: More than 400 dead, 55 in Bangkok, plus tens of thousands of familes displaced and more than 17,000 homes destroyed.
1995: More than 400 dead, 2.6 million people affected in Bangkok, a further 1.68 nationwide, 60,000 relocated.
1983: 400 million baht damage to farmlands and orchards in Bangkok, 200,000 houses in housing estates in Bangkok's eastern suburbs, 462 million baht in damage to roads in Bangkok.
1995: 26 major roads severely damaged, more than 70 rai of farmland was estimated to have been hit hard.
1983: 6.6 billion baht.
1995: Tens of billions of baht.
1983: None.
1995: None.
WET AND WILD: From top to bottom: Floodwater at the Bangkok Noi power station showed little sign of receding, posing the threat of power cuts; shrines swept away by the water piled up at the National Housing Authority; floodwater kept patrons away from Lucy’s Tiger Den on Silom Road and marooned staff.
DOG DAY AFTERNOON: Above, a man braves the flood to help two puppies to safer ground at Wat Pongsaram, Chachoensiao. Right, the Grand Palace in the 1995 flood.
SAVED BACON: Above left, a train passes through Bangkok’s Taling Chan district on its way to rescue a passenger train derailed in the southern province of Chumpon. Above, two piglets are rescued in Uttaradit province’s Tron district.
UP IN THE AIR: Royal Thai Air Force conscripts busily fill sandbags.
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