Canal's redevelopment sees local hopes swell
Khlong Lat Phrao, a major canal in Bangkok, was once known for its putrid water, proliferation of rubbish and land encroachment along its banks.
Yet, rehabilitation efforts by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) offer hope the canal area can once again become a livable environment.
Part of the canal in Sai Mai district has been transformed for the better.
The piles of rubbish bobbling up and down in the canal have disappeared, as well as the dirty water and foul smell.
Dilapidated houses built on wooden stilts that encroached onto the canal have been dismantled.
Big clean-up: Khlong Lat Phrao was clogged with rubbish, which prevented flood drainage. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
This rehabilitation push is the outcome of the BMA's scheme to redevelop the canal, expand its size to increase its drainage capability and build a 45.3-kilometre flood embankment.
The rehabilitation of Khlong Lat Phrao is part of the government's efforts to rejuvenate canals in Bangkok.
In the past, the city was known as the "Venice of The East" due to its waterways forming a major transportation network for residents.
There are 1,682 canals in Bangkok, totalling 2,604km in length.
Khlong Lat Phrao Canal is believed to have been dug in the early period of the Rattanakosin era over 200 years ago, and its banks have been home to many communities over that time.
Home sweet home: Some residents still live along the canals in Bangkok. (Photos by Pa wat La opaisarntaksin)
Wat Bang Bua was built in 1837, and Wat Lat Phrao in 1867.
However, the canals, including Khlong Lat Phrao, became neglected after the introduction of road transport over the last half-century.
They were mostly kept for flood drainage purposes.
Khlong Lat Phrao canal is one of nine canals in Bangkok that has been used to drain rainwater flowing into the city from northern Thailand.
These canals have fallen into disrepair over the past few decades.
Rubbish and houses built along its banks have obstructed its water draining ability, leading to it massively overflowing during the epic flood of 2011.
Out with the old: 7,609 families will be relocated into newly built state housing.
After this, the government called for the redevelopment of the canal and widening of the waterway.
Those who live in makeshift dwellings along the banks are required to move into a new state housing project nearby.
These housing projects -- for relocating 50 communities and their 7,609 families -- have been built as part of the collaboration between the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security and the Community Organisations Development Institute (Codi), a state-sponsored public organisation which operates public housing for low-income communities.
Chakkaphan Phewngam, Bangkok deputy governor, said the city picked Khlong Lat Phrao for the project because this canal is one of the city's main flood drainage routes -- which also comprises of Khlong Bang Sue, Khlong Prem Prachakorn, Khlong Rama 9 and Khlong Phra Khanong -- into the Chao Phraya River.
The BMA received 1.6 billion baht to enlarge the canal and build the embankment.
The project began in January 2016 and is set to finish in June.
Fresh start: New housing for local low-income communities along Khlong Lat Phrao in Sai Mai district.
The wider canal will double the city's capacity to drive out flood water.
Prior to the project, the canal was about 20 metres wide but the excavation work nearly doubles that to 38 metres, while the depth will also be expanded from two to four metres.
Yodkwan Junnapiya, director of Sai Mai district, said the project has helped improve the local situation.
"Now they have moved, people have permanent housing, while the dredging of the canal has also improved the quality of the water," said Mr Yodkwan.
Darapim Sukkasem, 48, a resident of Sai Mai district, said her life has improved.
"I once lived with my family of seven in a one-storey house, no more than 30 square metres in size. On several occasions, reptiles entered the house. Our new house, which was built by the state, is cleaner and has a better atmosphere," Ms Darapim said.
She said the new housing gives also community residents a greater sense of security.
"The new housing is safer. Those who were addicted to drugs were screened out. So, it's just a matter of time before our community starts to develop a family-friendly atmosphere once again," said Ms Darapim.
Mr Chakkaphan said the BMA also has a plan to promote tourism along the canal to help boost local incomes.
"In the future, many mass train routes will be built in this area and the government will try to promote boat transport after dredging the canal deeper to help commuters. Needless to say, the Khlong Lat Phrao will become a major local transportation hub in the near future," he said.