Thailand: Learning to cope with major disasters

25 September, 2012
Residents of Bangkok’s outer suburbs prepare sandbags to protect their homes during the height of the floods in 2011. Credit: OCHA ROAP
Residents of Bangkok’s outer suburbs prepare sandbags to protect their homes during the height of the floods in 2011. Credit: OCHA ROAP

Thailand, located in one of the world’s most disaster-prone regions, faces heavy rains and flooding every year. Last year’s floods were the worst the country had seen in 50 years, causing over 800 deaths in some 65 provinces. About 14 million people were affected, and the floods caused damage and projected economic losses estimated at more than US$450 billion.  

“The scale of last year’s floods took everybody by surprise. The UN and NGOs working in Thailand hadn’t dealt with flooding like that before,” said Luc Stevens, the UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand. “The experience tested our contingency plans. We have all learnt from last year’s floods and are now better prepared for when similar disasters strike.”
 
Affecting nearly a quarter of a million people in 15 low-lying provinces, this year’s floods are considered moderate by the Thai Bureau of Meteorology. The Government, acting on lessons learned from last year’s disaster, unveiled its flood-management strategy just before the start of the rainy season in September. So far, some of the funding has been spent on repairing water gates, clearing waterways to improve drainage, and constructing dykes and barriers. A new early warning system has also been put in place. 
 
This year, provincial governments and the Thai Red Cross are helping those who have been affected by the floods, with UN agencies and other humanitarian partners on standby and in regular contact with government agencies.  
 
In late August, OCHA facilitated a contingency-planning workshop in Bangkok to help people work together better during floods, based on the lessons learned from last year. 
 
“Our aim is to improve our coordination with the Government and our own level of readiness to provide support where needed,” said Mr. Stevens.  
 
Reporting by OCHA Asia and the Pacific