Bangkok survives flood threat, countryside suffers


Bangkok : Irrigation officials Wednesday claimed success in protecting Bangkok from floodwaters that have inundated Thailand’s central region, leaving at least 59 people dead.

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Unusually heavy monsoon rains since Oct 10 have caused widespread flooding in central and north-eastern provinces, affecting the lives of some 2.5 million people and causing more than 10 billion baht ($333 million) in damage to crops, households and infrastructure.

The capital was threatened by a “perfect storm” over the past days as sea water from the Gulf of Thailand was forced into the Chao Phrya river that winds through Bangkok by high tides while runoff from dams had already swollen the river. Added heavy rain would have severely tested the city’s flood preparedness.

The Irrigation Department, which manages the country’s big dams, claimed success in controlling the river. “Over the past two days we’ve reduced the amount of water released into the Chao Phrya from the dams, especially during the periods of high tide,” the department’s Director General Charit Damrongsak said. “It’s been successful,” he said.

Thailand’s central and north-eastern provinces have been less fortunate in the struggle against floodwaters, although the disaster has triggered an outpouring of assistance from public and private sources to the countryside.

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a special allocation of 3 billion baht to provide a 5,000-baht handout to each of the about 600,000 affected households.

The government approved another 300-million-baht budget to provide emergency relief supplies.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej granted another 10 million baht to flood victims, and his daughter Princess Sirindorn helped deliver relief kits to flood victims in Nakorn Rathcasima, 300 km north-east of Bangkok, one of the hardest-hit provinces.

Private sector charities have also worked hard to deliver aid to the needy, most of whom were in the relatively impoverished north-eastern region.

The floods, deemed the worst in recent history, have hit Thailand at a time when the nation’s psyche is still tender from anti-government protests earlier this year that turned violent.

Thailand has been suffering a deep political divide for the past four years, pitting the Bangkok elite and middle classes against the rural poor in a struggle for political power between rival groups donning yellow and red shirts.

“The floods have washed away some of the ‘colours’,” said The Nation newspaper in an editorial. “This has been a time when we did what we were supposed to do,” it said of the nationwide relief effort.