Ahead of Flood Season, Thailand’s Communities Demand Greater Preparedness
August 8, 2012
From July 2011 to January 2012, Thailand encountered the worst flooding in five decades. The floods killed over 800 people and left millions homeless or displaced. Over three quarters of Thailand’s provinces were declared flood disaster zones, and the World Bank estimated that the economic loss exceeded $45 billion.
Thailand’s government was unprepared for the longevity and severity of the floods, and many communities felt that the Flood Response Operation Center (FROC) which was established to coordinate emergency response and provide regular communications to the public, was inadequate. Many communities felt the government was not supportive and, in many cases, looked to NGOs, the private sector, universities, and local organizations to provide up-to-date, accurate information.
The Asia Foundation’s senior program officer, Ruengrawee Pichaikul, shared her first-hand accounts of the floods in our blog, In Asia, last year, writing: “Though frustrating, I continued to examine the murky, and at times contradictory, statements from the political rivals to stay informed. Serving as substitutes for conventional media, Facebook and other social networking sites were buzzing with more useful and essential information – much of which was provided by experts and environmental NGOs.”
Some communities also reported being unfairly treated by the government during and after the disaster. For example, the government requested a community near Don Muang airport to bear the brunt of the flooding by building a large barrier in the area to retain most of the flood water in an attempt to keep it from reaching the inner areas of Bangkok. The government promised the community that they would be properly compensated for their sacrifice and therefore they agreed. Although some communities have received compensation as of this writing, the amount was less than promised, and even less than some other less-flooded areas received.
In recent weeks, people have staged multiple demonstrations, demanding timely, fair, transparent, and equitable compensation for their losses during the floods. The protesters claimed that the government has not provided clear standards or guidelines that explain why similar businesses and households with equivalent levels of financial impact from the floods are being compensated differently. Currently, compensation is based on official loss and damage assessments, with a maximum payment of 20,000 baht ($630). Yet, there have been reports of inconsistent compensation payouts to business and households that have suffered similar financial impact. For example, homes located in the same district with similar damage have reported receiving very different compensation without any clear explanation as to why.
Community activists are demanding that the government speed up the compensation process and develop a clear set of criteria for compensation, and have committed to continue protesting until their demands are met.
Immediately after the flood waters receded, the Thai government, led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, unveiled its flood recovery plan. While the first and second phases of the three-stage national strategy for reconstruction focus on immediate flood relief and recovery measures, the third phase involves the pursuit of long-term solutions. The government has recently begun to transition to the last phase that aims to better equip Thailand for mitigating and adapting to future flood emergencies and the effects from other disasters that are a result of climate change and/or poor water management.
Two main concerns addressed by the flood recovery plan are restoring economic losses in flood-affected provinces and assuring international industrial enterprises operating in flood-prone areas. To restore confidence with foreign investors, the government has allocated a large amount of funding to industrial owners to build dykes to protect the industrial zone from future flooding and has held large seminars with investors to discuss how the government’s plan will protect businesses. Despite the government’s efforts, many industrial leaders have also expressed frustration with the lack of information from the government post-flood.
Last month, the government announced a request for proposals from companies to assist with a flood management program worth 350 billion baht ($11.7 billion). The proposed project has received criticism for being hastily developed and not having a clear terms of reference. Recently, the Engineering Institute of Thailand criticized the government’s program and called for the government to delay implementation and set up a team of experts to better assess and analyze the issues. The flood management program has also come under the scrutiny of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), which has committed to closely monitor the implementation of the program. The NACC cautioned the government that creating a process with short timelines and hastily approving consultants will create more opportunities for corruption. These forewarnings have lead local communities and organizations to question the viability of the government’s flood management program.
Now, six months after the water has subsided in Bangkok, many residents wonder whether Thailand is ready for the 2012 flood season which is fast approaching. This looming deadline makes improving community and stakeholder participation in flood recovery, reconstruction, and mitigation efforts even more urgent.
The Asia Foundation, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, has just launched a project to build communities’ resilience to large-scale floods. The program aims to improve coordination and collaboration among flood-affected people and groups. In this way, they can more effectively advance common interests and influence future policies, plans, and protocols on water management and disaster risk management. As flood management plans will directly and indirectly affect the livelihoods of millions of farmers, fishers, and communities, the project will also help give them greater voice and participation. We have also learned from experience that public participation can enhance the quality and effectiveness of flood mitigation and disaster preparedness measures.
While the 2011 flood disaster was exceptional in scale and impact, climate change projections suggest that natural disasters of this kind are likely to occur more frequently and more severely in Thailand in the years ahead. It is important to recognize that this unique moment needs to extend beyond the communities that were most seriously affected by the 2011 flooding and that Thailand needs to develop good practices, lessons learned, and knowledge-sharing to shape and influence broader and longer-term environmental governance in Thailand.
Teigan Allen is The Asia Foundation’s environmental program fellow and Santi Nindang is a program officer, both in the Foundation’s Thailand office. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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