11 July 2012

Rains sinking the homes and the economy

Atchara and Carolina
At the end of last year, Thailand experienced the country’s heaviest flooding in 50 years. The flood claimed 800 lives and paralysed Thailand for long weeks.

Atchara Suriya works in a tourism agency in Bangkok. We had the chance to meet her at the end of May and, in the middle of a conversation, we started to talk about the floods of 2011. This is what she told us. 

Heavy monsoon rainfalls 

“I am originally from the town of Pathum Thani, north of the capital Bangkok. My region has been one of the most affected by the floods. These last months have been very special for us”. Atchara explains: “The floods resulted from strong rainfalls. Depending on the place, the water went up slowly or very suddenly. At one of my friend’s, it took less than 12 hours for the water to go up to 1 meter.”

“I got only 50 cm in my home. My family and I did not leave. My parents did not want to because of the belongings and because of… our two dogs! So, like lots of others, we decided to stay, and spent our time on the 2nd floor or on the roof of the house. I remember that preventing the water to come from the outside was useless since the toilets or the drainage would overflow. The old people would not stop saying : this never happened before, this never happened before!

   Pathum Thani is some kilometres 
far from Bangkok. The ancient capital Ayutthaya is a little bit further North.
 The whole region on this map particularly suffered from the floods. It is here that lots of automotive and electronics plants operate.

“Of course the life in the village changed. Everything stopped. Everything turned to be more expensive. During this exceptional situation we could see lots of positive behaviour. For instance those who had a car would share it with others. People who had never talked to each other would start to do it. The village got organized differently”. About the action from the authorities, Atchara says : “We could see that we had no experience of flood. There was such a lack of organization from both the people and the authorities.”

Crippled tourism and industry 

When we were in the ancient 
capital Ayutthaya, we could 
observe the marks 
left by the water…
“The whole region kind of stopped. Firstly the tourism was impacted. The ancient capital Ayutthaya is close to my town, a little bit north. The historical heritage there was at risk and much less tourists came during the flooding months.

Secondly, the region where I live is an industrial area, there are lots of factories around. The floods stopped the activity for most of them. Lots of small companies basically closed as the losses were too big. In some Japanese companies, the Thai people had to choose between moving to Japan and work there for a certain period… or losing their job. A cousin of mine stopped working for one month. She stayed at home, with no revenue, in 2 meters high waters.”

Atchara concludes : “I hope the authorities will learn from what happened, I hope we can be better organized to face floods. Nature is changing. But nature rules our life so we must pay attention to it. We are responsible for it!” 

An economy hit for a long time 

Climate change includes changes in precipitation around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declares the following: “Anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale. It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe. This is particularly the case in the high latitudes and tropical regions, and in winter in the northern mid-latitudes.”

The 2011 heavy rainfalls and the resulting flood had a huge impact on Thailand’s economy. The country’s growth in 2011 was only 0,1% ; much less compared to 2010 growth of 7,8%.
More than 10 000 factories were forced to close and to lay off more than 350 000 workers while production was suspended. Japan economy shrank 2,3% in the fourth quarter 2011 partly due to the flooding that disrupted production at leading manufacturers such as Sony and Honda. The worldwide supply chain of hard disk drives – used in computers – was disrupted and the prices rose up. The manufacturer Western Digital announced recently that the situation will not come back to normal before… 2013.

Honda cars under water - Ayutthaya region
Photo : Getty Images

In Asia and the Pacific, 42 million people were displaced by environmental disasters between beginning 2010 and beginning 2012 (Asian Development Bank)

U.S. insured losses from weather disasters have soared from an average of about $3 billion a year in the 1980s to about $20 billion a year in the last decade, even after adjusting for inflation (Swiss Re) 


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