Thai floods devastating as prevention advice ignored

Floods which left an unknown number of dead in northern Thailand, were far more devastating because United Nations recommendations for flood control made after flooding some twelve years ago had largely gone unheeded.

After flood waters and mudslides from a mountain razed seven villages in the northern Thai province of Phetchabun, killing at least 70, with dozens more missing, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)’s Executive Secretary, Kim Hak-Su, had stern words for authorities. “Twelve years ago southern Thailand experienced similar type of disasters to what is going on now in the north,” he said. “An ESCAP expert team at the invitation of the Government had visited the area, and made a number of recommendations. It appears that the recommended measures for prevention of such hazards elsewhere in the country have gone unheeded.”

The original ESCAP, comprising experts in water resources and flood protection, geology, agriculture, environment, and human settlements, had recommended both short and long-term measures, when the southern part of the country experienced extensive landslides at the end of 1988. These included:

  • the deterioration of forest cover to be arrested with reforestation activities implemented immediately and proper watershed management and appropriate agricultural practices introduced as well as a survey of the environmental conditions at the damaged areas made;
  • considering that the area is still vulnerable to similar flooding,

    the establishment of flood forecasting and warning systems to be considered, and the need for more raingauges and streamgauging stations addressed;

  • serious consideration to be given to establishing a central flood

    control authority with nationwide responsibility for planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of flood control activities and works, with such an organisation being particularly effective in river basins shared by two or more provinces;

  • the drawing up of basin-wide development plans, clearly

    indicating the priorities to be assigned to various development activities, including undertaking of reclamation activities, construction of dams, provision of bank and river protection and implementation of other flood control works with a geological map providing information on the probability of landslides in vulnerable areas where human settlements exist; and

  • the development of supporting information systems for environmentally sound forest management and watershed management together with a mapping system to make practices more specific to the prevailing environmental conditions, which should be available to all organisations concerned.

“Many other parts of Thailand face similar hazards and lessons must be learned from the past and present disasters in order to take adequate and appropriate preventive measures against such hazards,” Kim said, while an ESCAP flood expert said that “now is not too late” to implement plans. Thailand’s prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, visiting the region said that in future water flow routes would be identified and villages built elsewhere, to prevent a repeat of the current devastation.

Meanwhile, Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, has reported that the northeast of the country has experienced its worst floods for two centuries, with at least 217 dead and over 350 people still missing. Thousands have been evacuated to higher ground as a result of the floods, which followed torrential rain in the Golestan and Khorasan provinces, which destroyed over 80 kilometres (50 miles) of roads, as well as 37,000 hectares of valuable farmland. The floods, which President Mohammad Khatami has described as a huge disaster, followed the worst drought in 30 years in the region. The news agency made no mention of an inquiry into flood prevention measures.

In the same week, floodwaters from a swollen Nile which had been predicted to submerge large parts of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, appeared to be receding when edie was published. However, the United Nations’ Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) said that the extensive flooding in northern and eastern Sudan in the past few weeks had destroyed crops and aggravated chronic food insecurity. Following two consecutive years of serious drought, flooding has exacerbated the “already precarious food supply situation” along the Nile, including areas around Khartoum, it said.

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