When water rises, you need nerves of steel

When water rises, you need nerves of steel

The wet season is upon us once again and with it comes a test of nerve. Around this time two years ago, Bangkok was helplessly complacent. Quite a few of us thought the water from the North that had swallowed the Central Plains, one province after another, would somehow be diverted away from us.

When the water finally washed us out of our homes, we paid a hefty price for being unprepared.

Two rainy seasons later and the jitters are still etched deep. The appalling fact is disasters, man-made or natural, also strike us psychologically where it hurts the most.

The morbid recollection of the ruined homes and wrecked lives is pounding the inner strength of some of us flood victims of two years ago.

But we must hold our nerve, stay level-headed and think it through.

Already, intrepid reporters were thigh-deep in water filing reports from the flooded fields. That had some viewers murmuring: "Here we go again".

Before we in the capital start moving our furniture up to the second floor, let's stay calm and go back to that time in 2011.

Back then, massive bodies of water had drained into vast areas of the lower northern regions and the Central Plains before they battered the industrial estates in the downstream province of Ayutthaya.

The water that washed over half of Bangkok in late October had previously collected in the open fields across the region and was trying to empty itself into the sea. But there was simply too much of it for it to be channelled away through the web of small canals dug a century ago in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani that had been intended mainly for transport and irrigation.

A substantial amount of water that ravaged Bangkok was also known as the slow tsunami. With the unleashing of this force of nature on such an unprecedented scale, the upper parts of Bangkok did not stand a chance. Some residents in affected locations packed up and drove away.

Now, as the current situation unfolds, the flood this year appears to be delivering its most critical blow in the East with Prachin Buri at its epicentre. The most devastated provinces of the Central Plains are reported to be those along the main rivers including the Chao Phraya, Pasak and Lop Buri.

Experts have said the downstream provinces are taking a hit because the rivers burst their banks, which they say is a seasonal phenomenon. However, many riverbank residents note the floods have grown more intense, occur more often, and have lasted longer in recent years.

The residents' observations are consistent with research on city planning that found more and more flood-draining waterways have been obstructed or even paved over during the construction of housing estates.

In the meantime, there appears to be no sign of a slow tsunami on Bangkok's doorstep that might inflict the monstrous damage one did to the city two years ago. But again that is not to say we should let down our guard. Look what a predicament we found ourselves in despite the repeated assurances from the authorities that they were "in control" of the surging water.

We have to educate ourselves more about the ebb and flow of water, the basic geography of where the major canals and rivers are and when and how much water runoff is too much. We need to listen for pieces of crucial data and be able to know what they are telling us so we don't go overboard with anxiety.

At the height of the 2011 flood crisis, we were showered with daily updates on how the Chao Phraya dam was accelerating the water discharge at more than 3,000 cubic metres a second. The dam provides a significant floodgate gauge and so its readings matter for downstream residents including those in Bangkok.

This year, the attention is shifted to readings at the Pasak Jolasid dam in Lop Buri and the Rama VI dam in Ayutthaya where a critical mass of water is flowing through.

The irony here is that sometimes we get a false sense of security from being fed information by authorities we should be able to trust while tending to ignore figures we think have a hollow ring to them and which sound more like a hard-to-crack code.

But we can't shy away from trying to digest information which can help us plan our own crisis management.

Different amounts of water discharged from dams and where water is being retained carry varying implications for our way of life. Staying focused and informed is the pill against anxiety and overreaction.

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

Kamolwat Praprutitum

Bangkok Post assistant news editor

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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