Last updated: November 6, 2011 3:27 pm

Bangkok steps up flood evacuations

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The governor of Bangkok has ordered more residents to evacuate as polluted water from the worst floods in Thailand in 50 years creeps closer to the centre of the country’s capital.

On Sunday Sukhumbhand Paribatra, the governor, told residents in four more districts to leave their homes, with 16 of the city’s 50 districts now having been fully or partially declared evacuation zones.

While aid organisations warned that the health risks from the filthy water were increasing and the number of people killed during the floods rose above 500, the government continued to fight with the opposition-led Bangkok metropolitan authority over the best way to protect Thailand’s economic heart.

The floods, which followed heavy monsoon rains that begun in July, have disrupted the lives of millions, wiping out one quarter of the crop in the world’s biggest rice exporting nation.

Seven key industrial estates in central Thailand have been inundated, sparking global shortages of computer and automotive components and forcing the central bank to downgrade its forecast for economic growth this year from 4.1 per cent to 2.6 per cent.

Save the Children, an international aid organisation, warned that residents in flooded areas, and in particular the young, were facing a growing threat from diseases such as severe diarrhoea because of contaminated water.

“We’re concerned about sanitary conditions,” said Stephen McDonald, emergency director for Save the Children, after visiting newly swamped districts of south-western Bangkok on Sunday. “In some of the evacuation centres, we’re starting to see outbreaks of diarrhoea and the supply of clean drinking water is proving difficult at best.”

Although the floods have finally started to recede in the northern provinces of Nakhon Sawan and Phitsanulok, a huge volume of water is still flowing down toward Bangkok before it can eventually drain into the Gulf of Thailand.

The waters, which are becoming ever more contaminated with excrement and rubbish as they flow into more densely populated areas, are now just a few kilometres away from key tourism and business districts in Bangkok. The crowded city of 12m people accounts for 41 per cent of the economic output in south-east Asia’s second-largest economy.

In a last-ditch attempt to save the city centre from being deluged, the government’s flood relief operations command over the weekend completed a hastily constructed 6km sandbag barrier and ordered in more pumps.

Yingluck Shinawatra, the recently elected prime minister, said she was hopeful that these measures would protect vital commercial areas of Bangkok.

But some observers warned that the flood waters seemed unstoppable.

“Flooding in inner city areas is likely,” Khomsan Maleesee, an expert in water management, was quoted as saying by Thailand’s The Nation newspaper. “The only truth we must face now is that water must run down from north to south, and inevitably through Bangkok.”

Amid the uncertainty, the Bangkok governor continued to clash with Ms Yingluck’s government, warning that the city authorities would be forced to come up with their own relief plan unless they received more pumps and other assistance to save the city centre.

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