Thailand will remember 2011 for its floodingImage: picture alliance / ZUMA Press
December 30, 2011
2011 will be remembered by the flooding it brought to Thailand. The death toll from the three months of floods stands at 790 and the country’s economic losses stand at around 45 billion US dollars.
The year 2011 will end with around one million people unemployed in Thailand, according to figures put forth by the state economic think tank, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB).
With an economy which contracted five percent in the fourth quarter, Somchai Sujjapongse, director general of the Fiscal Policy Office, said the flood's impact was more severe than expected.
As many as 10,000 factories, including hi-tech computer hard drive and auto companies on industrial estates, had to close shop because of the flood waters.
The agricultural and animal husbandry sectors were also badly affected. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said millions of livestock were lost as a result of the inundation and that they continue to suffer.
According to the organization, "Animals that survived the floods …are currently facing a lack of feed. Their health condition is deteriorating and they are at risk of starvation unless emergency supply of animal feed is provided."
2011’s floods were the worst that a lot of people have ever seen in Thailand. "In the past we had no flooding in areas of Bangkok. But this time many areas of Bangkok were affected," Pavinee Yuprasert, head of a Thai Red Cross relief division, told Deutsche Welle.
Bearing the brunt
Flooding was the worst in the Pathum Thani province, 50 kilometers away from Bangkok, where some areas were inundated with waters of up to two meters for over six weeks.
The province's Muang Ake housing estate, highly popular to Thailand's new urban middle class, is now a scene of devastation. In early December, 1,000 troops were dispatched to clear away 4,000 tons of rubbish as the waters finally receded.
But the troops have not been able to clear away all of it, with piles of garbage and moldy furniture lying about. Brown water stains at the height of three meters in some places along walls of buildings are a ghostly reminder of just how deep the water was.
Many of the restaurants, florists and hair salons are still vacant.
Lek, a print shop owner, was forced to close his shop for two months. "I moved out but a younger relative stayed behind to protect the shop," he tells Deutsche Welle. "It will be a long time to recover and it will be hard."
Two nearby universities were also affected, with water over one meter high inundating the ground floor of Rajamangala University of Technology. Students from the faculty of agriculture have seen their final year projects destroyed, says Charun Likitrattanaporn, the faculty's dean.
He says recovery for the community could take up to two years, and that some may never recover. He believes some shops might never reopen "because they have to recover, they have to reinvest in furniture, equipment."
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government, roundly criticized by the administration's handling of the floods, says it will have a flood management plan ready within weeks. The government plans to spend over 11 billion US dollars in recovery and infrastructure programs.
The flood disaster has raised debate in Thailand over the impact of climate change on the country.
Pavinee of the Red Cross says community preparedness for future tragedies is the key to surviving such events. "I think preparedness is very important. You should educate the people and improve early warning systems."
But a former governor of Bangkok, Bhichit Rattakul, and head of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, says Asia remains unprepared for the impact of more frequent storms that a changing climate is expected to bring.
Bhichit does not believe that Thailand or Asia is prepared, despite the lessons they learned from the tsunami of 2004. "It is still long way to go, with a more violent situation in the future from climate change due to global warming," he warns.