Thailand’s northeast submerged after storms

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Bangkok skyline during a heavy tropical rain storm on Septmber 1, which has resulted in serious flooding across Thailand and claimed the lives of at least 33 people. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP

Much of Thailand’s northeastern region remains flooded, two weeks after being hit by tropical storms Podul and Kajiki which have left 33 people dead and four provinces submerged in flood water as deep as 4m on Monday.

The authorities say it will take three weeks for the situation to return to normal in the region, which was hit just months ago by the worst drought in a decade.

The provinces most affected by the floods are Ubon Ratchathani, Yasothon, Roi Et and Si Saket.

Eight people have died in Ubon Ratchathani, a low-terrain province where flood water from elsewhere gushed in, according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. The water level was as high as 5m over the weekend, it said.

The crisis in the province is the worst in 17 years, said the Office of the National Water Resources (ONWR).

The authorities have helped those living in the flooded areas, including draining the water, evacuating people and sending food, drinking water and other necessities to those who remain stuck.

“I want to go to the hospital for my sinus infection, but there have been no boats passing by at all,” an elderly man stuck on the upper floor of his house told Thailand’s Channel 3.

The area is pitch dark at night as street lights have gone out.

“We’re using candlelight instead. I don’t want to live in a shelter. It’s crowded there. My stuff may get stolen,” said another elderly man.

The situation in Ubon Ratchathani has prompted a social media hashtag #SaveUbon2019 that has been used in more than 100,000 tweets.

But, it will take at least 24 more days to drain the excess water from the province, the ONWR said.

“This is because there is only one way to drain the water - through the Mekong River. It’s not possible right now to dig more waterways to drain the water faster,” Samroeng Sangphuwong, deputy secretary-general of the ONWR, told The Straits Times.

In the four most affected provinces, more than 23,000 people have been evacuated.

Samroeng said the flood crisis in Thailand is not as bad as it was in 2011, when many parts of the country, including Bangkok and industrial estates just outside the city, were flooded.

The crisis in 2011 killed up to 815 people and cost the country $46.5 billion in economic losses, according to the World Bank.

Since late last month, over 400,000 households across the country have been affected, while more than 3,000sq km of plantations have been damaged.

Manit Nachaiyayo, a farmer in the northeastern province of Kalasin, told local newspaper Thairath that all of his near 20,000sqm of rice paddies have been destroyed, even though the flood water had been completely drained.

“I’m so sad that I couldn’t sleep at all. I invested $650 in this and it’s all gone,” he said.

The total economic losses are not immediately known, but according to the Industry Ministry, damage to factories has amounted to an estimated $4.3 million.

The northeast, also known as Isan, was hit by the worst drought in a decade in the middle of the year. Now, farmers are struck once again by floods.

The double disasters could reduce jasmine rice production by at least 30 per cent, and the price is expected to rise by up to 20 per cent this year, Jakkapol Charnburanawat, vice-president of the Thai Rice Farmers Association, told The Straits Times earlier this month.

Thailand, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter after India, exported 11 million tonnes of rice last year. The drought has led to the Thai Rice Exporters Association cutting its export goal to just nine million tonnes this year.