Bangkok floods, reducing urban risk in a changing climate

News and Press Release
Originally published

By Sarah Landelle

Geneva, 3 January 2012 – As the Thai capital, Bangkok, recovers from the worst flooding in a century, many are concerned that the disaster may be a sign of things to come amid a changing climate.

“With climate change it is likely that there will be more natural disasters and extreme weather events; this is not unique to Thailand and can be expected all over the world,” said Ms Waraporn Hirunwatsiri, Environmental Specialist and Team Leader for the World Bank Rapid Needs Assessment carried out in the country in November 2011.

The recent floods evolved slowly, with the waters descending over a period of five months from the northern hills of the country. The capital was overwhelmed by the huge quantities of water as many of its drainage canals had been blocked as a result of poorly managed development. The situation was aggravated by the decision of government officials to keep the city centre free of water, at the expense of other areas.

Around 500 lives were lost, 12 million affected and substantial damage and disruption affected the huge business plants located on the fringes of the city. According to figures released by the World Bank, the economic loss was more than 1.4 trillion baht (US$ 45.7 Bn approx.) making the disaster one of the costliest in human history.

“In order to mitigate risks associated with the increasing flooding problem, Thai authorities need to continue to invest in flood protection, improved drainage, construction of flood barriers, improved retention areas and prevention,” said Annette Dixon, World Bank Country Director for Thailand.

The Thai News Agency recently reported that the incumbent government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had committed to the development of floodways running east and west of the Chao Phraya River in order to evacuate flood waters away from the city.

Bangkok is a member of the “Making Cities Resilient” campaign run by UNISDR, the UN office for disaster risk reduction. Among the ten essential actions promoted by the campaign is the maintenance of critical infrastructure to reduce the risk of disaster.