Fix or folly? Bangkok’s $12bn flood protection planBy Asia Sentinel Mar 21, 2013 4:32PM UTC
It might be wiser to move the city, writes Asia Sentinel’s David Fulbrook
Thailand’s massive US$11.8 billion plan for a series of dams and canals to keep the waters of the Chao Phraya River away from Bangkok is drawing concern that it may be inappropriate, too expensive, and a gigantic magnet for corruption.
The government set out to put the plan in place after once-in-a-century floods in 2011 caused extensive damage, disrupted supply chains, and nearly engulfed the central city. However, Japan’s aid agency has presented an alternative plan that costs about half the price, and has questioned some of the assumptions and requirements in the Thai government plan.
Concerns have been raised about corruption because the government wants financing in place by June without putting the plans before parliament or it seems undertaking environmental and social impact assessments, with Pramon Sutheewong, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand saying the project clarity and that he isn’t sure how the money will be spent or on what projects.
Nevertheless, superficially the plans might reassure citizens, factory owners and investors that the government will do what it takes to prevent a repeat of 2011. Reassurance is essential to maintaining confidence given that the floods engulfed 1,300 factories on the Chao Phraya plain, which lies on average only 1-2 meters above sea level, compared to just 0.4 meters for Bangkok itself. The World Bank estimated that the flood resulted in US$45 billion of economic losses and another $15 billion in insurance claims.
The hard engineering approach laid out in the government’s plans is if nothing else impressive for its scale, with spending estimates in current prices crudely equating to 78 percent of spending to rebuild the defences of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The scale and relative speed of the government’s plans to deal with flood risks may hold significance beyond Thailand. In recent years Jakarta and Manila, which like Bangkok sprawl over and sink into flood-prone lands, have also been struck by severe floods, killing dozens and causing substantial losses to the economies. Thailand’s plans may offer a benchmark for citizens and investors to judge efforts by public authorities in Indonesia and Philippines to secure their respective capitals from flooding.
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