Children affected by Thailand's worst flooding speak out about their experiences
By Nattha Keenapan
BANGKOK, Thailand, 19 November 2012 – Natthasit Muangsawang, 11, is familiar with flooding. His home is inundated almost every year during the rainy season.
But, after the massive floods of 2011 swept away his books, desk, toys and other belongings, he was given a chance to speak out about his own experience during the floods for the first time.
“I was bored [during the floods], as I couldn’t go out of the house,” he said. Natthasit’s house in the central province of Lopburi was under more than two metres of floodwater for several weeks. “I wanted to tell adults not to pressure us too much. We were already stressed out because of the floods.”
Capturing the experiences of children
Monsoon rains cause flooding in Thailand every year. During the devastating floods of 2011, it is estimated that more than 680 lives were lost because of the floods, and that 13.57 million people were affected. Reports suggest that the majority of deaths, particularly among children, were caused by drowning. A significant number were attributed to electrocution.
Earlier this year, Natthasit took part in the Voices of Children: Attitudes and Opinions of Children and Youth regarding Disaster Response and Preparedness research project. The project gathered the views of some 500 children affected by the 2011 flooding in Ayutthaya, Bangkok and Lopburi.
The research, conducted from March to July 2012 by the Raks Thai Foundation with support from UNICEF, used drawing and painting, storytelling, group discussions and in-depth interviews to capture the experiences of children 8 to 18 years old during the floods.
Raising important issues
The research also covered the children’s assessment of the emergency response to the floods, and their ideas on how preparedness for future floods and other emergencies can be improved.
Almost all of the children who took part in the research said they had been bored during the floods and that authorities should organize some activities for them. Many children said they had played in the water, even though they could not swim. Poor hygiene and sanitation were also among common issues raised by the children. Many had had to urinate into the water and defecate into bags, as toilets had not been available.
“I wanted a mobile toilet, as it can float to other houses, too,” said Arunee Wannapanich, 18, a Grade 12 student from Ayutthaya, one of the hardest-hit provinces.
Arunee’s classmate Tannatporn Panyam, 17, lived in an evacuation centre in Ayutthaya Province during the flooding. Although there were toilets at the centre, Tannatporn said she wished there had been separate facilities for males and females.
“I didn’t dare to take a shower, as there were lots of male teenagers hanging around the toilets watching me,” she said. “I had to wait until nighttime when those boys were gone so I could take a shower.”
Listening to children’s voices
“I want adults to listen to children’s voices,” said Natthasit.
According to Chief of Social Policy for UNICEF Thailand Andrew Claypole, “Children are vulnerable and often excluded from decision-making, especially in times of emergencies and during response to natural disasters.”
The goal of the project is not only to help the children talk about their experiences, but also to bring children’s voices to the forefront. “This research is aimed at promoting children’s participation and ensuring that their voices are heard and their needs are taken into account,” says Mr. Claypole.
He hopes that the children’s views will help influence national policy both during an emergency and in emergency preparedness planning.
The research findings were presented at a national seminar in Bangkok in early November involving representatives of relevant central and local government, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, the United Nations, academics, media and more than 80 children, including some of the project participants.