Mismanagement, Superstition and political intrigue Skip to main content

Mismanagement, Superstition and political intrigue

This has been dubbed the worst flooding in modern Thai history. The way things are going we may hear this same line every year henceforth.

Currently 30 provinces are experiencing their own versions of water world, while 30 more are in a state of recovery. More than 800,000 families are suffering as a result of the disaster. At the time of writing, 252 people had been killed and four were missing. It's estimated that more than 7.5 million rai of farmland will be damaged before it's all over.

The provinces of Lop Buri, Ang Thong and Chai Nat stand on the east bank of Tha Chin River. They have been hard hit. Lop Buri has been trapped by one to three metres of water for over a month. That's up to the second storey of a house.

But there has only been 100-200mm of rainfall. How could that have led to three-metre floodwaters?

Suphan Buri province, on the other hand, stands on the west bank of the Tha Chin and its villages and towns are mostly dry.

The water flows down from the north, through the provinces of Nakhon Sawan, Uthai Thani, Chai Nat, Sing Buri and Lop Buri. The cause of flooding is not necessarily just excessive rainfall, but the blockage of the natural flow of water, plus bad economic and residential logistics, multiplied by human decisions.

Residents of the ''wet lands'' are angry at those living in the ''dry lands''. They point fingers and they argue.

''Why is my house under water while yours stands dry?''

In many cases, there have been violent clashes.

Residents of Sing Buri, Chai Nat and Nakhon Sawan argue over which direction the Royal Irrigation Department should direct the flood.

The urbanites want the water to flow into the farmland. After all, we have to protect the economic and urban centres as they are the lifeline of city dwellers.

The farmers want the water to flow into the urban areas. After all, we have to protect the rice fields as they are the lifeline of farmers.

On Friday in Ayutthaya province, at around 10pm, farmers and villagers fired shots in the air, threatening each other.

The fight was over the blocking and channelling of floodwater, and hence about protecting their livelihoods.

After a cabinet meeting on Friday that lasted until 2am, Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi told the press the authorities must let the Asian Highway, which basically sank between kilometres 12-21, stay flooded.

Ayutthaya has been declared a disaster zone.

This is to protect the economic heartland of the Kingdom. The Rangsit Industrial Estate and Bangkok must be saved.

So the flood's path will continue to be blocked off, which means provinces like Ang Thong, Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya will remain flooded, sacrificed for Bangkok.

There is no outlet. The natural flow of water is through Bangkok and to the east coast and into the Gulf of Thailand.

There's so much water, but nowhere for it to flow, because we can't risk economic and urban centres. That's the prevailing logic of the decision makers.

Human logic can be correct or flawed, but Mother Nature will do as she pleases.

High tide will occur between Thursday and Oct 18. Seawater will rise, coupled with the floodwaters pushing down from the north.

Bangkok proper will surely be hit no matter what measures are taken, and in fact it has been hit, earlier than expected. Yesterday many areas in Bangkok were already flooded. Heavy rain started at 3am, amounting to about 100mm. The drainage system should have taken care of it. But no.

The Drainage Department said the system was overwhelmed.

This is a story of favouritism, incompetence, mismanagement, superstition and political intrigues.

There are accusations that Suphan Buri was saved because the province is the stronghold of political heavyweight and current coalition partner Banharn Silpa-archa.

The counter-argument from Suphan Buri is that the economic centre must be protected and that flood gates of other provinces are broken.

Whatever the case, favouritism toward those linked to powerful politicians at the expense of the less fortunate is nothing new.

Captain Somsak Khaosuwan, director of the National Disaster Warning Centre, said the flood problem need not have reached this disastrous level. But it has because the people and country were not prepared due to deforestation and poor logistics.

''It used to be villagers had four to five days to prepare, but nowadays flooding can hit the same day as the warning,'' he said.

''There are no forests to absorb the water.''

Capt Somsak pointed out that many natural water reservoirs now no longer exist because we have turned them into economic zones and residential areas.

''The way we build our roads and urban areas, we don't consider the natural flow of water. Often, we build things directly in its path.

''Many villages are built right in the path of the water. Many are illegally built by encroachers,'' said Capt Somsak.

One consequence of this is that they block off the natural flow of floodwater and channel it into a narrow lane, making the current much stronger and faster, and it hits areas that have never been flooded before.

''There are people who believed that their villages would not be flooded because they have never been flooded from the days of their parents and grandparents,'' said Capt Somsak. ''But things have changed.

''Both the people and government agencies have to understand this.''

Capt Somsak suggested the people should listen to science rather than superstition to prepare properly and evacuate in a timely manner. He said people must not just rely on ''traditional wisdom'' such as looking for signs from animals or the changing colour of water to predict flooding. ''They should also consider science,'' he said.

Yesterday morning, in the wet aftermath of the 3am rain, the governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration organised a ceremony to make offerings and plea to the River Goddess to save the capital city.

Jakrapob Penkair, former spokesman for Thaksin Shinawatra and a leading member of the red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, posted an article on his website titled ''Underwater [Flood] Current'' to politicise the issue.

In the article, Mr Jakrapob alleged that ''the more the people suffer, the more they play politics, with a big and deep goal that the populace would have never thought possible''.

He believes that the Pheu Thai government is being forced to focus on the flood problem and forced to use a flawed strategy so that the government would not have time to amend the constitution or bring justice to those who suffered from the political violence over the past years. He also alleged that there's a conspiracy to use the flood disaster to turn members of the public against one another and ultimately bring down the Pheu Thai government.

The sum of all the incompetence, mismanagement, superstition and political intrigues — besides the slight redeeming value of the ridiculous stories for us to laugh about — is that whenever there's a disaster, natural or man-made, the effect will always be multiplied and magnified. And we haven't even talked about corruption yet.



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