Thailand floods: Villagers frustrated over government inaction
With yet another flood hitting southern Thailand, villagers point to decades of inaction by consecutive governments.
Nine provinces in Southern Thailand are affected by flooding as heavier than usual monsoon rains continue to fall on the area. The storms sweeping across this narrow stretch of land separating the Gulf of Thailand from the Andaman Sea have also affected northern Malaysia.
It used to be said that flooding in the south of Thailand was an annual event during the wet season but it is now happening more than once a year.
For the past week, the province of Songkhla – along with others in the region – has been pelted by heavy rain resulting in all 16 districts being declared disaster zones.
To a large extent the people have grown accustomed to flooding because it happens so often. Large parts of the south were also underwater in January.
During these times of difficulty, Thais often adopt an attitude of “what will be, will be”. The community comes together and copes as best it can.
This is happening again now; people are helping each other out, particularly with transport via boat to and from their flooded homes. You can see them congregating on the nearest dry strips of land to wait for food handouts from the government and local groups.
But this year, the situation is more serious than usual, which has brought a sense of frustration.
“The flood this year is much worse than last year, and it’s very difficult,” said Pranee Khunthongkaew, a farmer who had taken some time out to dry her feet and catch up with friends on the elevated road, which has become a lively gathering place for people to get some food or park cows that have been rescued from the floodwater.
“We need assistance from the government because our livestock is stranded and needs food and the whole village is underwater,” she said.
Experts agree that this year is much worse, partly because of climate change, but also as a result of decades of inaction by governments in Thailand that have been, and continue to be, preoccupied with self-preservation.
Seree Supratid is an expert on climate change and water management from Bangkok’s Rangsit University, and he says Thailand’s volatile political scene is partly to blame for the flooding situation.
He says governments change so frequently that they have no time or aren’t interested in developing sustainable projects like proper drainage systems or better farming practices.
“Governments think about short-term solutions only because they only stay for two to four years so they only think of projects that can be completed within that timeframe.”
The disasters that are happening with greater frequency don’t just affect people’s homes and possessions; they also affect their livelihoods.
Huge swaths of rice fields and rubber plantations are underwater; this will increase the financial pressure on farmers who saw their income shrink 2.6% in the three months to September amid a wider Thai economy that’s ambling along at a much slower pace than most of its neighbours.
Most Thais who live in flood-prone areas don’t want to leave because their families have been there for generations.
They choose to stay, putting up with their increasingly common watery existence, hoping that one day, they can get through a wet season without having to deal with a major flood.