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Thai Flood Victims Face Challenges Returning Home

A man smokes a cigarette outside his flooded home in a slum just outside Bangkok, Thailand, November 21, 2011.
A man smokes a cigarette outside his flooded home in a slum just outside Bangkok, Thailand, November 21, 2011.
Gabrielle Paluch

Thailand’s historic floods are now slowly receding. But in Bangkok, scores of evacuees are reluctant to go home. As the government discusses how to compensate flood victims for their losses, residents who are facing the task of rebuilding their lives speak out.

At the height of the floods, the Chaeng Wattana evacuation center in Thailand’s capital housed over 3,800 people. Many are now going home.

In drier times, Det is a volunteer coordinator for Bangkok youth groups. In recent weeks, though, he has been working here, helping evacuees.

“Some people have gone home only to find that there’s still water in their area. The water is stinky, and they have no money or equipment, and so they came back here and asked if they could stay a while longer,” said Det.

After a month of sleeping on a tile floor, 49 year-old Sunan Jitsawang has made the decision to return home. The 15-kilometer journey takes two hours in a specially outfitted bus capable of driving through the deep water.

Just outside her house, drainage pumps are working around the clock. Although water has receded by one meter in her Bangkok suburb Rangsit, it still has a long way to go. Her 10-person household includes her elderly mother, who has been suffering from severe asthma and back problems.

“I don't know about the future because I have not had time to think about it that much. My main concern is about money. Very few members of my family are working and I don’t know where I’m going to get all the money to repair the house,” said Sunan.

Thailand's costliest floods so far have totaled at least $320 million. Many neighborhoods have been flooded for weeks, the stagnant water mixing with sewage and trash. Insurers are still tallying the damage.

"Basically, as far as we can guess of the almost 20 million houses around Bangkok and in central Thailand which were affected by this flood, only about less than one percent are insured for flood, and mostly have no coverage for flood," said Jeerapan Assavathanakul, with the General Insurance Association.

Sunan said she would have just stayed in her flooded home had her mother not been ill, and she's eager to get her life back together.

“We will not claim much for insurance - just help to replace things that were lost like beds and cabinets. Right now we are sleeping on the floor, and there are snakes and centipedes,” she said.

Now that Thailand's flood victims are returning home, many may find that the ordeal of moving on has only just begun.

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