Natthasit Muangsawang, 11, is familiar with flooding, as his home is inundated almost every year during the rainy season. But after the massive floods of last year swept away his books, desk, toys and other belongings, he was given a chance to speak about his experience for the first time.
Children affected by last year’s flooding show their views of the disaster through arts.
"I was bored [during the floods] as I couldn't go out of the house," said the boy, whose house in the central province of Lop Buri was under more than 2m of water for several weeks. "I wanted to tell adults not to pressure us too much. We were already stressed out because of the floods."
Natthasit took part in the Voices of Children: Attitudes and Opinions of Children and Youth Regarding Disaster Response and Preparedness project, which gathered the views of 500 children affected by last year's flooding in Lop Buri, Ayutthaya and Bangkok.
The research, conducted from March to July by the Raks Thai Foundation with support from Unicef, used drawing and painting, storytelling, group discussions and in-depth interviews to capture the experiences of children aged from eight to 18 during the floods.
The research also covered the children's assessment of the emergency response to the floods, and their ideas on how preparedness for future floods and other emergencies could be improved. The findings were presented at a national seminar in Bangkok on Monday involving representatives of relevant central and local government agencies, the private sector, non-government organisations, the UN, academia and the media, and more than 80 children, including some research participants.
"Children are vulnerable and often excluded from decision-making, especially in times of emergencies and during response to natural disasters," said Andrew Claypole, chief of social policy for Unicef Thailand. "This research is aimed at promoting children's participation and ensuring that their voices are heard and their needs are taken into account."
Thailand experiences flooding every year as a result of monsoon rains, but last year's floods were the worst in seven decades. The floods claimed more than 680 lives, including 103 children, mainly due to drowning and caused damage and losses estimated at US$45.5 billion.
Almost every child who took part in the research said they were bored during the floods and that authorities should organise activities for them. Many children said they played in the water even though they could not swim. Poor hygiene and sanitation were also among common issues raised by the children, many of whom had to urinate in the floodwater and defecate into bags as there were no toilets available.
"I wanted a mobile toilet as it can float to other houses too," said Arunee Wannapanich, 18, a Grade 12 student from Ayutthaya, which was among the hardest-hit provinces.
The involved agencies hoped that, after the presentation, the children's views would help influence national policy both during an emergency and in emergency preparedness planning.
"I want adults to listen to children's voices," Natthasit said.