As the floods in Thailand reach record levels, they are causing unprecedented damage to human lives, property and the natural environment.
Current reports are that the flooding has caused over 400 deaths and affected some 2 million people in 26 of Thailand’s 77 provinces. About 17,000 km2 of farmland have been submerged, 13.2 million animals killed, and 1,000 factories inundated. Economic losses are estimated at over US$3 billion.
Bangkok, like other cities built on river floodplains, creates bottlenecks to natural drainage, its paved surfaces and narrow streets concentrating the effects of flooding by channeling water and preventing it from draining into the ground. Managing water in this context is a complex and challenging task.
As Thailand focuses on the immediate humanitarian impact of the floods, some possible longer-term approaches to managing future flooding are emerging. IUCN and its many members and experts in Asia bring specialist expertise to a number of these.
Water management can be strengthened by giving river basin committees a clear mandate and the authority to ensure that different water sector agencies integrate their planning and activities. Broadening public participation in decision making on how and where water infrastructure is developed can improve the legitimacy and acceptability of water policies.
Although large-scale engineering projects may be needed in some cases, solutions that incorporate natural features and processes are a cost-effective way of improving flood management and should be considered in any long-term integrated plan for managing water resources.
Investing in restoring floodplains, wetlands and watercourses – perhaps even Bangkok’s once-famed network of khlongs (canals) – will deliver multiple benefits. These ecosystems provide a natural infrastructure, which helps to lessen the scale and impact of flooding. Floodplains store water during floods and recharge groundwater reserves. Healthy wetlands and natural river channels buffer the impact of large floods by slowing the flow of water and storing water to lower flood peaks. Well-managed watersheds increase the absorption of rainwater into the ground, reducing surface run-off.
IUCN supports an open, informed dialogue on these and other ideas, with the goal of identifying an optimal combination of engineering and natural solutions for the future benefit of Thailand's people, economy and environment.
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