Find ways to manage water

Find ways to manage water

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha laid bare his vision on flood management when he visited flood ravaged-communities in Sukhothai province this past weekend.

As he handed out flood-relief items to villagers, the prime minister admitted to them that the government is unable to completely solve 100% of the country's annual flood problems.

Embittered villagers were told that when a flood occurs, "all the government can do is to make sure they recede faster and pay compensation as quickly as possible". His revelation encapsulates the Thai style of bureaucracy that underpins water management in Thailand.

The Thai government's water management policy is still deeply rooted in a 1970s mindset with men trying to conquer nature with engineering and one-sized-fits-all large-scale water projects.

Large dams, gigantic reservoirs and other water engineering mechanisms such as flood embankments and water sluice gates, have been the way our governments and state agencies have tried to deal with both drought and flood.

Despite times changing and methods evolving -- ie more ecological and holistic approaches -- the Thai government keeps on building large projects.

When these old ways fail to solve flooding problems, we witness the same scenarios: sandbags being deployed and cabinet approving compensation and flood relief budgets etc. Then there is the spectacle of politicians and charity groups rushing to flood-hit villages to donate relief items and money.

With the current flooding, there have been a few things that the government can or could have done. As the flood multiple provinces in the upper and central regions, the National Water Resources Committee chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon should have declared an emergency situation for flood-hit provinces.

By doing so, a special committee tasked to handle flood crisis and empowered with more legal authority would be formed to coordinate flood management; a single-command centre, known as a "war room", with a chief operator appointed to handle the crisis.

In practice, such a special committee has the power to command and coordinate 25 state agencies responsible for water management and flood mitigation to work together, not separately as they usually do.

Apart from the war room, the special committee would also have the mission to communicate with the public and media, and therefore given authority to have airtime on state TV and radio to disseminate flood updates and warnings.

Such a lean-and-mean style of management is not a pipe dream. Indeed, Thai authorities used this mechanism to deal with floods in Phetchaburi and Surat Thani in 2018.

That flood control mission was spearheaded by the Office of the National Water Resources (ONWR), then a newly founded state agency that acted as a single command centre. ONWR serves as the secretariat body of the National Water Resources Committee.

The ONWR sent out early flood warnings, made sure its messages got across to the public and ensured the warnings translated into action on the ground. While both provinces were inundated anyway, at least local residents were informed of the floods ahead of time, so they were, at least, well prepared.

Yet, nothing has been done this year. So, what we see is the old and grinding machination of Thai-style bureaucracy.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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