Thailand flooding: Is this 2011 all over again? Probably not

2013 10 01 thailand flooding

With tropical storm Wutip bringing downpours to Thailand, are we likely to face massive 2011- style floods all over again?

It’s not looking that way.

The AP puts things in perspective:

Thai authorities said Tuesday that floods have killed more than 20 people and affected areas across the country over the past two weeks, though experts say there doesn’t appear to be the risk of devastation seen in record floods two years ago.

Thirty-two out of 77 provinces have seen flooding since mid-September and 23 people have been killed, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department said in its report, adding that 25 provinces still have flooding.

“Thanks to the dredging of the canals and the weather, at this point there is nothing to panic about,” Bangkok Gov. Sukhumbhand Paripatra tweeted Monday night. “Currently the water level in the Chao Phraya River is still low, so there’s nothing to worry.”

And as Bangkok Pundit noted in a characteristically comprehensive post last week, a crucial issue in 2011 was not just massive downpours, but high water levels in dams:

The risk at the moment is flash floods from heavy rainfall as we have seen in Prachinburi- which is expected to continue over the next week – but this completely different from what we experienced in 2011 where we had heavy rainfall and large discharges of water from the dams. We will continue to have discharges of water, but don’t panic over small dams. Watch the rainfall though as if it continues we will have more flooding – more like 2010 – but still not enough rain to see anything like the 2011 floods.

Even in the apparently unlikely event of wide-scale indentations, however, one concern is the status of the government’s flood defense projects.

The WSJ‘s Southeast Asia Real Time said last week:

Since the 2011 flood, which the World Bank estimated to have cost Thailand about $45.7 billion in economic damages and losses, Ms. Yingluck’s government has launched an $11 billion effort to improve Thailand’s flood defenses as it scrambled to reassure anxious investors.

However, the government’s floods control projects have been met with legal delays and protests. A court in June ordered Ms. Yingluck’s administration to conduct an environment and health impact assessment before it can proceed with the projects, which include constructions of dams, reservoirs and a flood prevention command center. The government recently filed an appeal.

The upshot, though is this: Don’t assume we’re in for floods like we saw two years ago.

(Image: Bangkok Post.)

Will Bangkok Flood Again This Year?

It’s possible, says one expert in Thailand.

But a look at water levels in Thailand’s dams reveals that they seem to have plenty of capacity at this point.

A story in today’s Bangkok Post says:

Bangkok is at risk of flooding from heavy downpours caused by an unusually lengthy monsoon trough period and an imminent storm early next month, an expert has warned.

Run-off from the North, which last year left parts of the capital submerged, will only worsen the flooding because the real threat this year is rain that may overwhelm the current inadequate drainage system in the capital, said Thanawat Charupongsakul, a disaster and geographic expert at Geology Department of Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University, yesterday.

The city has so far not released enough water from canals to the extent done back in 2006 when canals were left with plenty of capacity to hold floodwater, he said.

“To make things worse, City Hall has still not stopped quarrelling with the government over flood management,” he said.

(Indeed, during my reporting on last year’s inundation, some experts told me that a major problem was a lack of coordination between government agencies.)

And:

Mr Thanawat is most worried about October because that is when run-off from the North and high tides increase the water level in the Chao Phraya River.

The city’s river embankment is about 2.5m above mean sea level, but provinces upstream, especially those with industrial estates, have built and increased the heights of their levees and flood walls, so the run-off will be blocked and eventually move toward Bangkok

I understand that substantial work has, in fact, been done to fortify flood defenses around some industrial estates. So it makes sense that areas farther downstream could be at risk as water is displaced.

Meanwhile, Bangkok Pundit has an extensive post today on water levels in Thailand’s various dams.

(Some say a problem in 2011 was that not enough water had been discharged from such dams earlier in the year, meaning they were largely full when the heavy rains started and could not be used to retain excess water.)

The conclusion:

Simply put, while we still need to keep an eye on heavy rainfall which can cause flash floods, we don’t have the level of water entering the river system from the North and the Central regions that we did last year. Until this happens (which BP thinks is still very unlikely for this year), the risk of severe flooding is very low.

Ultimately, water management is a complex issue. But Bangkok drainage mechanisms, coordination among agencies, and water levels in dams seem to be key components.

(Bangkok Post link via @kmorit.)

Bangkok Post: Environmental Group Seeks to Stop Industiral Estate Flood Walls

Just a quick note: A story in today’s Bangkok Post caught my eye. It says:

Industrial estate operators are hitting back at activists seeking a court order to halt anti-flood dyke construction, saying the work is urgent and needed to regain investor confidence.

The Stop Global Warming Association is today asking the Central Administrative Court to issue an injunction suspending construction of anti-flood dykes being built at seven industrial estates inundated during last year’s floods.

The association president, Srisuwan Janya, has said that the barriers would cause damage to the homes of villagers living nearby in the event of future floods.

He also said the permanent floodwalls would have serious social and environmental impact, altering natural water-flow routes.

But Thavich Taychanavakul, managing director of Hi-Tech Industrial Estate, said construction of the new dykes is under way in order to win back investor confidence and get ready for the coming rainy season.

I’ve noted Thailand’s flood prevention plans as rainy season approaches; today’s news could represent a significant development.

Sirsuwan Janya, of course, is head of the environmental group that brought the lawsuit over environmental concerns surrounding the Map Ta Phut industrial estate. Some $10 billion of projects were suspended for nearly a year.

It’s unclear, of course, what will happen with this, Srisuwan’s latest effort. But I wanted to point the story out for now.

UPDATE: There’s more from MCOT.

Self-promotion: New WSJ Southeast Asia Real Time Story on Thailand Flood Prevention Measures

I have a new story today at The Wall Street Journal’s Southeast Asia Real Time blog.

The headline is “As Rainy Season Approaches, Thailand Focuses on Floods,” and the story begins:

The Thai government says it is taking steps to prevent a repeat of last year’s massive flooding. But experts warn that some of the government’s big ideas – such as large-scale new dikes – probably won’t be completed before seasonal rains arrive in just a few months.

Give it a read.

NY Times on Thailand’s Supply Chain Issues Following Floods

A recent New York Times story says:

KHLONG LUANG, Thailand — The floodwaters receded weeks ago from this sprawling industrial zone, but the streets are littered with detritus, the phones do not work and rusted machinery has been dumped outside warehouses that once buzzed with efficiency.

Before Thailand’s great flood of 2011, companies like Panasonic, JVC and Hitachi produced electronics and computer components that were exported around the world. Now of the 227 factories operating in the zone, only 15 percent have restarted production, according to Nipit Arunvongse Na Ayudhya, the managing director of the company that manages the Nava Nakorn industrial zone, one of the largest in Thailand and located just north of Bangkok.

“The recovery has not been that easy,” Mr. Nipit said in an interview Friday on the sidelines of a meeting where he sought to soothe anxious foreign factory managers.

The slow recovery here is having global consequences. Before the floods, Thailand produced about 40 percent to 45 percent of the world’s hard disk drives, the invaluable and ubiquitous storage devices of the digital age. It is now becoming clear that it will be months — significantly longer than initially expected — before production of hard drives returns to antediluvian levels.

(Emphasis mine.)

Worth a read.

Self promotion: New WSJ Southeast Asia Real Time Story on Thailand Tourism and the Floods

I have a new story today at the WSJ‘s Southeast Asia Real Time blog. It’s called “Despite Floods, Thailand Poised for Tourism Record,” and begins:

Thailand’s vital tourism industry has suffered terribly from the massive floods that continue to drain slowly from Bangkok’s suburbs. Remarkably, however, the country is poised to set a record for the most yearly international arrivals, underscoring the tourism sector’s resilience despite a string of recent crises.

Give it a read.

Self-promotion: New WSJ Southeast Asia Real Time Story on Flooding and Ayutthaya’s Temples

I have a story today on the Wall St. Journal‘s Southeast Asia Real Time blog called “Repairing Ayutthaya’s Ancient Temples.”

It begins:

The famed temples in Thailand’s ancient city of Ayutthaya were the country’s most prominent tourist sites to be hit during recent severe flooding. The water has now largely drained from the area, and most of the structures are open to visitors. But efforts to assess the damage and begin needed repairs have only just begun.

Click through for the rest.

Infographic: How Does Thailand’s Flooding Compare to other Disasters?

Thanks to reader D for passing along this infographic showing the scale of Thailand’s ongoing flooding.

The graphic was created by David McCandless, of the well known data visualization site Information is Beautiful.

2011 11 28 Information is Beautiful 001

For a bigger image — and to see how Thailand’s flooding compares to other disasters, click through to the The Guardian’s DataBlog. The post begins:

Floods. Amazon deforestation. Earthquake destruction. Satellite maps somehow don’t always help us to fully imagine the size of these disasters. Is there a better way to visualize the scale of destruction?

Here I’ve been playing with the ranges of various natural and unnatural disasters, pulling data from various media reports and the US Geological Survey.

Thailand flooding update November 22, 2011: Waters draining slowly

Just briefly: I have received emails asking for an update on the flooding situation here in Thailand. So here goes:

Summary

In short, there’s not much new to report. Waters are reportedly draining slowly from affected areas, which are generally Bangkok’s western and northern outskirts.

This Nov. 12 WSJ map shows that the parts of the city that have been hit are areas that tourists are unlikely to visit:

2011 11 11 bangkok flooding wsj

Phuket, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and other parts of the country — aside from central Thailand and Ayutthaya — have not been affected.

The international airport, Suvarnabhumi, continues to function normally. Don Muang, the domestic airport, remains closed, but domestic flights are operating via Suvarnabhumi.

The BTS (Sky Train) and MRT are still fine.

Central Bangkok is still dry.

Following the flooding news

Going forward, I will only post about the floods if there are significant developments.

For more frequent updates, I suggest consulting the government’s travel information site, ThailandTourismUpdate.com.

There’s an update from yesterday (Nov. 21), for example, that provides a run-down of the situation.

And of course, you can also consult the Bangkok Post and Nation newspapers.

A Google News search for “Thailand flooding” may also be helpful.

Thailand flooding update November 18, 2011: Floodwaters receding, but suffering continues

Here’s the latest as of 7:30 p.m. today, Fri. November 18, 2011.

Note: There have been two interesting non-flooding-related developments here in Thailand and within the region recently.

First, the Thai government has reportedly discussed a pardon that could allow Thaksin to return.

And second, President Obama said today that Sec. of State Clinton will visit Myanmar next month.

These are both important stories, and I’m sure I’ll touch on them at length later. But for the time being, I will continue to focus on the flooding situation here.

Reminder: This post, like the last, will consist of links to notable news stories. I will post new maps and other images as I come across them.

For previous summaries of the flooding situation, see the Thailand flooding tag.

And as always, for more frequent updates, you can follow me on Twitter.

News reports

The WSJ‘s Southeast Asia Real Time says today:

Water levels may have receded significantly in parts of Bangkok after weeks of devastating flooding, and the number of affected provinces in the Thai capital is now just 20 compared with a high of 64. But as more than 5.3 million remain affected by the floodwaters, the crisis is far from over for the Thai kingdom. The death toll — now at 594, according to the Thai government — continues to rise steadily, with more than 60 deaths since last Thursday.

The NYT had this story yesterday about Sec. Hillary Clinton’s recent visit:

Thailand is still reeling from the Great Flood of 2011, but government officials stayed true to the country’s deeply ingrained sense of hospitality during the visit of its important guest. A large banner was strung on the facade of the evacuation center for flood victims welcoming Mrs. Clinton.

What Mrs. Clinton witnessed on Thursday was not a Potemkin village by any stretch. As she entered an air-conditioned sports complex that now serves as an evacuation center, flood victims sat on mats where they have slept every night for many weeks.

But in a land of almost instinctual deference and automatic smiles for foreign visitors, the organizers of Mrs. Clinton’s visit shielded her from a genuine encounter with the frustration and the stress felt by the tens of thousands of flood victims in the country.

Reuters said today:

Thailand’s worst floods in 50 years have hit tourism at the start of the high season, but the country has recovered quickly in the recent past from all sorts of scourges and some tour operators are hopeful a recovery might start next month.

Meanwhile, here’s a Nov. 15 travel alert from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok:

…Floodwaters are generally receding, and the overall situation is improving. However, flooding still hampers transportation and limits access to some essential services in the affected areas.

(All emphasis mine.)