A true disaster

The damage wrought by months of flooding in Thailand is slowly beginning to emerge. Thailand’s ancient capital of Ayutthaya, a Unesco world heritage site and a treasure trove of old statues, temples and monasteries has gone under water. Ayutthaya’s monuments are reported to have suffered serious damage in heavy rain that has battered Thailand since July, causing severe flooding in the northern parts of the country. Over 500 people have been killed and losses run into millions of dollars. Bangkok is now under several metres of water and tens of thousands have been forced to relocate.

Monsoons drench Asia every year, bringing in their wake water and life to a parched earth. But with the rains come floods and much destruction. This wasn’t always so. That is, while the monsoons brought heavy rain, human settlements and towns were not inundated as they are today. Scientists are blaming human-induced climate change. Unplanned growth and haphazard development has made mega coastal cities like Mumbai, Manila and Bangkok disaster traps. Bangkok, for instance, is located in the path of waters flowing from the north of the country to the sea. Experts are saying that with natural drainage systems, floodplains and plants that once soaked water being destroyed in the name of ‘development’, inundation of our cities has become routine and inevitable.

Historic Ayutthaya survived the ravages of time. But will it survive human greed and folly? This town sits on the confluence of three rivers. In the past, people lived in houses built on stilts and travelled in boats. Centuries ago, Ayutthaya was designed to face floods and to drain water off naturally. But in recent decades, it has undergone rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Buildings are blocking the natural runoff of water, exacerbating the floods problem. Experts are suggesting digging up old canals that have been closed and paved over by cemented roads.

The steps being taken by Thailand’s political leaders to deal with the floods seem aimed more at impressing the public than dealing effectively with the problem at hand. They have put up a ‘big bag barrier’ of 4,000 bags filled with rocks and sand to the north of Bangkok to prevent the waters of Khlong Rangsit from flowing into the city. Holding back water will build up pressure resulting in new disasters. This quick fix solution should be avoided. 

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