Floodwaters are finally receding in Thailand, but the government continues to face questions over which communities were spared and which were flooded.
The centre of Bangkok has remained largely dry, thanks to a vast network of sandbags and pumping stations. But those defences have saturated surrounding areas under metres of water, and Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand’s prime minister, admitted on Monday that parts of the capital could still be flooded next year.
“Personally I want to see people happy in the new year, but I am not confident about western areas, where it is difficult to drain water,” she told reporters.
“The general situation is stable as floodwaters drain into the sea, but how quickly it drains depends on the contours of each area.”
Protests and economic damage
Small protests have erupted in communities which have not been spared. In the suburb of Don Mueang, north of Bangkok, a hole in the floodwall allowed water to drain away. When authorities tried to repair it – which would leave Don Mueang inundated but keep the waters from reaching Bangkok – about 70 residents tried to stop them.
The government and the protesters reached a compromise to only partially repair the hole.
Residents in other communities have gone further, tearing down the government-erected floodwalls.
Flooding has affected more than a third of the country’s provinces, and killed 562 people nationwide. Thai officials say the economic damage is still being counted; local media and business groups have said it could top out at more than $25 billion.
Major international companies, including Honda and Toyota, shuttered their factories in Thailand because of the floods, and it is unclear when they might reopen.
Authorities are hoping to quickly revitalise the tourism sector, which has been badly damaged by the flooding. The government on Monday reopened a major elephant park in Ayutthaya, 80 kilometres north of Bangkok. But experts fear that many of the monasteries and other ruins around the park were damaged by the floodwaters.
“Right now the tourists are starting to understand and hear the news that tourism in Ayutthaya is resuming,” said Witthaya Piewpong, the province’s governor. “We are now welcoming all tourists.”
Yingluck has proposed spending 130 billion baht ($4.2 billion) on reconstruction and future flood prevention.