Tackling the harrowing devastation of flooding

Tackling the harrowing devastation of flooding

The navy officials have tried to push out flooding water at Cha-uat canal in Nakhon Si Thammarat province to relieve the suffering of residents in flooded area. (Bangkok Post file photo)
The navy officials have tried to push out flooding water at Cha-uat canal in Nakhon Si Thammarat province to relieve the suffering of residents in flooded area. (Bangkok Post file photo)

Arun Jittuan, 45, will never forget the night of Dec 1 last year when the rain was loud and heavy on the tin roof of his home in Cha-uat district of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

At first when water started seeping in from beneath his front door, he thought it would stop. But it didn't. More flooded in and, as the waters rose, suddenly he found himself in danger. He had to get out.

This was the beginning of the devastating flooding that drenched Thailand's 12 southern provinces over almost two months, and damaged or destroyed more than half a million homes, affecting nearly 2 million people. It washed away houses, caused bridges to collapse and contaminated water systems.

On that fateful night, Mr Arun, 45, escaped to his parents' house nearby. The waters were dangerous there too, however, their home was stronger and two storeys high. Mr Arun and his parents huddled together on the top floor as water submerged the bottom. And that's where they stayed for a week until the flooding finally receded.

"[Relief] supplies were given through the windows," Mr Arun said. "The boat had to dock right above the ceiling of the first floor."

When he returned home, Mr Arun found a dilapidated wreck. The roof had collapsed and all his possessions had been destroyed or washed away. His neighbours' homes were badly damaged too. The community simply didn't expect flooding like this.

Had Mr Arun decided not to flee; he might have been lost to the floods forever like more than 90 people who lost their lives. His experience highlights the need for far greater investment in emergency preparedness and, in particular, a practice aid agencies call disaster risk reduction (DRR).

DRR programmes work with communities to plan for disasters like floods, storms and tsunamis -- all risks in Thailand -- building their knowledge around the different types of hazards, the risks each pose and how best to prepare. To make sure every one is kept safe, these programmes create procedures for monitoring weather forecasts, design and practise evacuation routes, and develop village-wide plans to protect possessions, properties and lives.

If Mr Arun had known to expect such severe flooding, he could have moved his most important possessions to his parents' home before the rains started. He would have evacuated far earlier, and told others to do the same.

It is especially important to improve preparedness in schools too. When disaster strikes, children are increasingly at risk of missing out on vital education, being injured or even killed.

I'll never forget the heartbreaking story of a five-year-old boy in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Chulabhorn district who died in the flooding. The boy was reportedly walking not far from his home when he was swept away in floodwaters. He was found dead about an hour later. It was such an awful and needless loss of life.

Save the Children has been running DRR programmes in 12 schools in the deep South for almost a year now. I know this work has already saved lives, and there were no deaths from flooding in any of the districts these schools are in.

With additional financial support of 17.5 million baht from the United States Agency for International Development on top of its previous 10.5-million-baht support, our DRR work will be expanded to 36 schools across four provinces in southern Thailand.

This is a game-changing investment for dozens of vulnerable communities. They too will now be supported just like the flood-prone village Pru in Yala where Save the Children has worked with teachers, schools staff, students, parents and other community members on disaster risk reduction.

In particular, we helped set up a community guard to lead their disaster preparations and keep everyone updated, including monitoring emergency alerts and weather forecasts, and sharing key information across the village through the app Line. They help inform people when it was safe to move around outside again.

We also included children in planning and preparing so they felt confident when facing an actual emergency. And when the rains came, the community knew what to do. The local school was closed and a team collected all items and put them on special shelves built high above the ground.

For the first time ever after a major flood, not a single book or piece of learning equipment was damaged at the school. Families were better able to protect their belongings because they had adequate warning and knew what to expect, and went to stay with relatives if they were at risk. Most importantly though, nobody died.

This example is profound, especially compared to Mr Arun's community, but it's not unique. Disaster risk reduction work saves lives, ensures education continues, and dramatically reduces the often crippling impact of floods, typhoons and other emergencies.

The town of Pru wasn't lucky. It was prepared.

With the frequency and severity of disasters increasing across the globe, there's no better time than now to invest in disaster preparedness, especially in Asia -- the most disaster-prone region in the world.

Kim Koch is the Country Director of Save the Children in Thailand.

Kim Koch

Country Director of Save the Children in Thailand

Kim Koch is the Country Director of Save the Children in Thailand.

Do you like the content of this article?