No end in sight: Bangkok's flood problem to persist

No end in sight: Bangkok's flood problem to persist

BMA slow to respond, despite years of warnings

Land in Khubon of Kannayao district is being developed as monkey cheek water retention areas to ease flooding. (Photo by Varuth Hirunyatheb)
Land in Khubon of Kannayao district is being developed as monkey cheek water retention areas to ease flooding. (Photo by Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Nine years after the epic flood of 2011, the upper-eastern part of Bangkok -- the low-lying and flood-prone area -- is still as vulnerable as ever to inundation as City Hall might not be able to develop six flood catchment projects there as planned.

In the 2011 monsoon season, the upper-eastern part of the capital city suffered from severe floods. Among the hardest-hit areas were the districts of Kannayao, Min Buri, Sai Mai and Klong Sam Wa because most are on low-lying land.

In the old days, the area was filled with rice paddies that helped retain floodwater. But in the last few decades, the farming land has been converted into real estate and commercial projects, reducing the area's water-retention capacity.

After the 2011 flood, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) launched its "Flood Prevention Masterplan".

The BMA had envisioned man-made structures such as tunnels or underground water reservoirs for inner-city areas in the capital which would carry floodwater to outer sectors where natural reservoirs and ponds could hold the excess.

For the upper-eastern part of the city, the BMA in 2012 issued a plan to develop six flood catchment schemes covering 1,000 rai of land.

The idea was to create capacity to retain 5 million cubic metres (cu m) of floodwater.

However, four of the six "Kaem Ling" drainage basin plans in Bangkok did not materialise as the land they were supposed to be developed on had been sold for real estate and commercial purposes.

Somsak Meeudomsak, deputy director of the BMA's Drainage and Sewerage Department, told the Bangkok Post the four projects are already grounded.

The BMA attempted land expropriation in 2017, but private owners in four areas reportedly turned down the offer, preferring to use their land for commercial purposes instead. The four schemes were targetted to absorb about 4 million cu m of floodwater in total.

Yet the BMA went on to the other two projects: the "Bueng Khubon Flood Catchment" in Kanna Yao district and the "Bang Chan Flood Catchment" in Min Buri district.

The first planned facility was set to absorb 728,000 cu m of water, while the other 218,400 cu m.

Mr Somsak said both projects are likely to proceed as locals support them. The Bang Chan Flood Catchment facility is going through a public consultation process and has a 93% approval rating from residents in the district, he said.

The BMA deputy director said the land expropriation process was complete in six months and tangible progress was visible in the first quarter of 2011.

However, the BMA is seemingly running into the same old problem: a lack of progress.

For the Bueng Khubon Flood Catchment project, a commercial company is developing 30 rai of land nearby the water project, despite the BMA announcing in 2017 that 130 rai of land in the area would be developed for flood mitigation.

People who live in the area, who wish to see the project materialise, are now worried and since May, many locals have lodged petitions with government agencies, Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang and the Ombudsman.

"The BMA says it has just started the land expropriation [process]," a resident who asked not to be named said about Bueng Khubon.

"But developers are quick in buying land and developing projects.

"If the BMA moves too late, this flood catchment project might be grounded like the previous four."

BMA did not rule out the possibility their fifth flood catchment plan might hit a snag. Mr Somsak said the city is already preparing plan B.

"If the worst-case [scenario] happens, the department will deal with the floods in Bangkok with other solutions such as water banks," he said.

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