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Thai Officials Optimistic Flooding Will Not Reach 2011 Levels

  • Ron Corben

A general view of a flooded town in Sukhothai province in north of Bangkok, Thailand, September 12, 2012

A general view of a flooded town in Sukhothai province in north of Bangkok, Thailand, September 12, 2012

The Thai government says it is confident there will be no repeat of the country’s devastating floods of 2011 that claimed more than 800 lives and devastated the economy. But, although the government is confident - analysts say the flood management plans are unclear and the government needs to better inform local communities vulnerable to potential floods.

Thai Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi Wednesday said he remained confident Bangkok will avoid a repeat of the devastating floods of 2011 with rainfall sharply lower from last year.

Major dams in the northern and central plains of Thailand are 50 percent lower than last year and at the ready to hold back more runoff from the annual monsoon rains.

Pladprasop’s comments come as floods engulfed the ancient city of Sukhothai, 400 kilometers north of Bangkok ,after waters breached walls and dykes there.

On national media, local residents were seen wading waste deep through brown waters, carrying a few precious belongings.

The 2011 floods were Thailand's most severe in five decades claiming 815 lives, affecting 13.6 million people and costing the economy $45 billion. Major industrial zones were hard hit, but have built major flood walls to prevent a repeat of the inundation.

The government has also set aside $11.2 billion for flood prevention programs. But analysts say the heavy spending has raised fears of abuse and corruption.

Last month, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra set out the government’s policy for further flood prevention that includes forest and plantation restoration, water retention areas, dredging of shallow canals and improving early warning systems.

Analysts remain cautious over the plans. Danai Thaitukoo, a lecturer in architecture at Chulalongkorn University, says the flooding of Sukhothai raises questions over the plan’s preparedness.

“I’m not sure that what is the plan, what is the focus of any plan, if they have one and the area like Ayutthaya start to see the water and I think Sukhothai - I think the flood walls failed - so the city of Sukhothai is flooded again - And I’m not sure the outer area might have the same problem," said Danai. "[We have] Yet to see what happens is like we don’t have any plan - we’re not really prepared, not really.”

Thailand’s 2011 floods led to bitter political infighting. Local communities still protest, seeking compensation. The government of Prime Minister Yingluck battled about strategy with Bangkok’s city government led by Governor Sukhumband Paribatra.

Retired meteorologist Samith Dharmasaroja a former member of the government’s flood prevention committee, is calling for greater use of science and long-term weather forecasting in the planning and policy process.

“I think the government goes ahead in the wrong way because, in order to make flood prevention or to make a flood forecast or making a plan to operate the flood system, you have to know first hand, you have to know the meteorological situation in this area,” said Samith.

Samith says the policy needs greater attention to long and medium-term weather forecasting. But Samith supports the government position there will be no repeat of the level of floods of 2011. But he warns that, because of El Nino weather patterns, Thailand is likely to face drought in the coming months.

Architects and city planners blame poor city planning and over-development around Bangkok resulting in flood waters being blocked from the sea for last year's floods.