Stop the city sinking

Stop the city sinking

The report should have been alarming. It should have shaken all authorities to the core and sent them into a frantic mode searching for a possible solution.

Unfortunately, indifference still seems to prevail.

Bangkok could be submerged in 15 years unless preventive measures are put into place in time, according to a report submitted to the National Reform Council (NRC) on Wednesday.

At this point, when areas in the capital city are only 0.5-2 metres above sea level and continually sinking at a rate of 10 to 20 millimetres per year, all possible solutions are already costly.

These include building barriers around the city such as what was done in the Netherlands or relocating the capital.

Despite the urgent nature of the problem, Bangkok's subsidence has received little attention from policy-makers.

The prediction has been known for decades and it is difficult to argue against. International institutions including the World Bank have sounded warnings several times about the possibility that Bangkok and its surrounding areas could be underwater in a few decades if nothing is done.

Considering its inevitability, the sinking of Bangkok should have underpinned the country's short and medium-term development.

There is no argument that the capital has suffered from over-crowding and unplanned growth.

A strategic divestment from Bangkok is long overdue. Such a plan should be formed and implemented when it is still possible to do so.

To wait until the city has sunken too low will limit the country's options while augmenting possibilities of disruption to the public's life.

According to the report, the main causes of the capital city's subsidence are an excessive pumping of groundwater, the heavy weight of buildings and rising sea levels.

Among the three causes, two can be addressed immediately.

While the use of groundwater was common in some suburban areas around Bangkok, the practice cannot be expanded.

The aquifer is replenished at a slow rate. Drawing from it should be the very last resort if at all. Instead of promoting groundwater pumping, the government must declare a complete halt on the practice.

Bangkok does not need many more buildings either. In fact, the city should be stopped from further expansion while attempts should be made to establish centres of development in other regions that can cater to new growth of businesses, industries and services.

These new business centres must be strategically linked by transportation routes to enable the movement of goods and people. They can be developed to serve the country's attempt to diversify its comparative advantage and secure new manufacturing and service niches such as those in data centres or eco-friendly products.

The time for Bangkok to hold supremacy over the entire country must come to an end. The plan for decentralisation has been in discussion for decades but never really implemented. The urgency of the situation — the clear, unequivocal message from the NRC panel that Bangkok might be underwater in less than two decades — should serve to push the de-development of the capital city to the fore of the country's development agenda.

While the NRC on Wednesday voted to endorse the report, it asked the panel to give it one more review before sending it over to the cabinet. What is worrying is while the panel's finding is extremely startling, it only asked that a national committee be set up to look into the sinking problem. Such a bureaucratic response is likely to be too little and too late.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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