Govt switches to 'war room' mode on flood Skip to main content

Govt switches to 'war room' mode on flood

In the misery caused by the slowly but steadily spreading flood — the worst the country has experienced in decades — lies many crises, chief among them that of leadership.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra can blame her luck for the timing of the flood crisis, which began just after her government was formed.

Truth be told, Ms Yingluck hardly had time to establish her role as the government leader or get her team members, some of them first-time ministers, to understand theirs.
It was inevitable that the still-shaky government led by a rookie prime minister would falter when hit by a flood of such an unprecedented scale and size. But really, that's no excuse.
If push came to shove, PM Yingluck deserves more credit than the members of her team. At least she has been seen as trying to be there with flood victims and has made an effort at helping all along. I can't recall any of her ministers who have dedicated as much of their time and energy. Interior Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit? When was his last trip to a flooded area? Social Welfare and Human Security Minister Santi Prompat? I  haven't seen him doing much to "dry up the tears" of people who've lost their belongings to the rushing waters, who probably still have no roof to sleep under at the moment.

Still, the PM only last week got around to establishing a "war room" to integrate the apparently unorganised efforts to cope with the flood. Her first national address came too late, a warning about a disaster that had already struck.

After all, signs that Thailand could face a severe flood problem this year had begun to emerge a few months ago in August, when tropical storm Nock Ten inundated 21 provinces and affected more than 200,000 people. What did the government do at that time? They set up this "Bang Rakam model" named after a district in Phitsanulok where flooding has occurred repeatedly, as a place to try a more systematic, integrated approach in battling the flood. The ICT Ministry was supposed to computer-link all flood data so that authorities could be on the same page and coordinate efficiently. The Interior Ministry was supposed to set up a ``one-stop service war room'' in which all related agencies could work together to manage the flood. The Agriculture Ministry was supposed to deal with farmlands and compensation, and so on.

One has to wonder where has the Bang Rakam model has gone and what has since happened to the Interior Ministry's one-stop service war room? Have they been of any use in shielding anybody from the devastating effects of the flood?

If the Bang Rakam model or the Interior Ministry's one-stop service were indeed a success, I have not heard anybody talking about them. In fact, I do not think they were successful, because if the government had been so successful in integrating flood information and its responses, PM Yingluck's first national address would not have come out the way it did.
Up till now, I still have no clue what the PM was talking about when she mentioned this massive amount of water — 7,000 million cubic metres — that is flowing down from Sukhothai to Nakhon Sawan and Ayutthaya. Is it the accumulated rainfall? The water released from the major dams that are fast filling up? What exactly is this humongous volume of water? The way PM Yingluck described this amount of water, it seemed as if it just popped up on the landscape, with no clear explanation of where it came from and no clear description of where it was going, what damage would it cause (even if it were only an estimate) and what should be done about it that would be best under the situation.

This is not the reflection of an integrated flood management. It's not even a very practical flood announcement. The information left people feeling more baffled and alarmed than empowering them to make a prudent decision that could probably save their lives and properties.

From the government's own estimate, the current bout of flooding could keep the millions of people affected by it immersed in misery for weeks. PM Yingluck and her flood war room ministers have a huge challenge ahead of them, both in mitigating the current flood effects and in rehabilitating the country after the waters have receded.

Was it by chance that the government chose a place named Bang Rakam or Desolation Country, to launch an unsuccessful pilot project to fight back the floods? The current crisis isn't giving anyone time to sit and wonder. The government must get its act together — or the entire country could end up in desolation.


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