Monday, 24 October 2011
All eyes are now on Bangkok as the flood waters continue to surge towards the city centre. While it’s currently the industrial outer eastern and northern parts of the city that are affected (as well as riverside Chao Phraya), it’s unclear how far the waters will advance, and if the dykes and run-off channels will do their job.
The latest news reports state that much of the city is likely to be inundated, with the government preparing shelters for up to 800,000 people. City residents have been warned to prepare for four to six weeks of flooding of up to one metre in depth.
Having experienced firsthand how pathetic the city’s drainage is during a mere rain storm, I suggest anyone planning a visit to Bangkok in the coming weeks pack their rubber thongs and be prepared for very wet feet.
In the worst floods for over half a century, there’s been A$5.88 billion in damage, with 2.5 million families displaced and 356 people killed since August. And as industry shuts down, workers are being sent home, many of them forced to return to their families in poverty-stricken regional areas.
I was told this morning that in Isan – the poorest region of Thailand – community centres and orphanages are strapped as breadwinners return from Bangkok, minus their jobs and seeking help. This usually dry region of Thailand currently looks “like Kakadu during wet season”, with rice paddies and fields submerged. Short term, there are bound to be food shortages; long-term, lives and livelihoods will need to be rebuilt.
One NGO doing a great job in the rescue and relief mission is The Mirror Foundation, a charity based in Chiang Rai run by Thai and hilltribe staff. This is just one group that has answered the call for assistance, coordinating around 70 volunteers a day to deliver relief aid, loading up boats with supplies for flooded communities and rescuing those who have been stranded.
Ironically, the charity’s own accommodation near Don Muang airport has just succumbed to the floodwaters – looks like they’ll be sleeping at the airport tonight, joining over 3,000 other refugees on the floor of the relief headquarters.
According to Aye Naraporn from Mirror Foundation, volunteers will be required after the crisis passes to help with restoration efforts. Although nowhere near as drastic in terms of loss of life, she compares the situation – in regards to numbers of displaced families and livelihoods lost – to that of the 2004 tsunami, one which will require years of restoration effort.
The Mirror Foundation is accepting donations for flood victims on their website. Having worked briefly with this group in Chiang Rai, I can vouch for the amazing, hands-on approach to charity and their strong moral ethics. I can guarantee your money will be going into the right hands.
To donate, visit www.themirrorfoundation.org
In the meantime ... don’t cancel your plans to visit Thailand! In most parts of Thailand, it's business as usual, and that means hot, sunny weather and plenty of smiles. It's even a beautiful day in Bangkok today, despite the rising waters. The gorgeous islands in the south are unaffected by the flooding problems, less than three percent of major tourist attractions are closed, and all airports - including Suvarnahumi Airport in Bangkok - are operating as usual. Some roads in the central regions are under water, however, so best stick to air travel between destinations.
Now more than ever, Thailand needs our support – with tourism the best way to boost the economy.