Flood response needs overhaul

Flood response needs overhaul

Nearly two months after storm-induced floods hit Ubon Ratchathani and other northeastern provinces, the state has sluggishly offered help to those who have suffered from a disaster said to be the most serious in almost two decades.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha this week "promised" a multi-billion-baht financial assistance package to flood victims, estimated at over 21,600 people.

"The government is allocating 2.09 billion baht to affected families," Gen Prayut said on Thursday during the "Government Weekly" broadcast on the Thai Khu Fa Facebook page.

"Residents must exercise their rights to the handouts," the prime minister said, adding that the government will do its best to channel all the money, including donations, to people in need.

At the same time, the Council of Engineers Thailand led a group of engineer volunteers to inspect houses damaged by the month-long heavy rain in Muang and Warin Chamrap districts. Their goal is to ensure that buildings are safe to live in as, according to council president Suchatvee Suwansawat, accidents often occur in the aftermath of floods when evacuees return to their homes.

The government was under pressure after images of flood victims waiting desperately on the roofs of their submerged houses for relief packages were shared on social media and carried by news outlets. The floods, which began on Aug 29 in the outer area of Ubon Ratchathani and were at their most severe in the middle of last month, amounted to over 4 billion cubic metres of water and affected more than 500,000 rai of farmland in 25 districts. Various pieces of infrastructure, as well as a number of roads, were also badly damaged.

The authorities said it would take about a month to drain the water triggered by two tropical storms, namely Podul and Kajiki. They blamed the topology of the province, which is the last tributary province of the Mekong River, for the prolonged inundation. However, it's evident that poor preparation and inadequate relief tools and equipment made it difficult for the operation against the floods to amount to anything other than a token gesture. The mass of water coming from the Chee River only intensified the inundation.

Last month, actor-turned-relief worker Bin Banluerit stole the show after he rushed to help troubled residents, handing out cash and necessities he garnered from kind-hearted donors, leaving the Prayut administration red-faced.

While cash relief is important for the victims, the government should do more than typical road and infrastructure repair. Instead, it should focus on implementing efficient, multi-agency, anti-flood strategies.

These severe floods highlight the need for the state to revamp relief operations and its disaster warning system, especially the tasks that are under the responsibility of local administration agencies. It also needs to explore flood prevention measures, and review improper land use and road construction and development projects that shamefully block the waterways and compound the problem. Town planning measures should be revised to better implement flood controls, especially the use of kaem ling water retention ponds. Local agencies and the government must be decisive and ensure that areas appropriate for retaining large volumes of water are not occupied and used for other purposes.

The great floods in this northeastern province should be a crucial lesson for everyone. All the agencies involved must look back and objectively pinpoint the flaws in their work this year.

Dam management is one example. As the floods ravaged the province, local scholars and activists recommended the quick opening of the sluice gates at the controversial Pak Mun dam to allow a greater flow of water. There was speculation that by the time the gates were finally opened in the first week of September, it was too late.

The disaster prompted northeastern activists to repeat their demand that the Pak Mun dam be demolished to accelerate drainage in the region. This may be the time to seriously study that recommendation.

There are over 25 state agencies responsible for water management and flood mitigation, and there are 30 laws that they can enforce. These agencies and their procedures must be streamlined so their response to disasters is more nimble and effective.

As the country experiences extreme weather patterns as a result of climate change, water management must become the focus, instead of handling calamities passively as was the case with the Ubon Ratchathani floods.

All agencies should brainstorm and pay heed to recommendations from local academics and scholars to chart long-term and comprehensive water management measures.

Everything possible must be done to make sure that such a disaster is not allowed to happen again.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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