Thai flood relief: Civilians lead the way – A photo essay
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Thai flood relief: Civilians lead the way – A photo essay

By Lillian Suwanrumpha

Despite rigourous attempts by the Puea Thai government and the Royal Thai Army to alleviate Thailand’s worst flooding in 50 years, most recently with the implementation of the Flood-Relief Operation Command at Don Muang Airport, it is civilian operations that are leading the way with donations distribution in the hardest-hit areas in Thailand during the nation’s worst flooding in 50 years.

One active Red Shirt volunteer group, coordinated by members of the UDD, Red Sunday and local community radio, has been making bi-weekly expeditions to ensure that those who have been the most difficult to reach are receiving adequate food, water and basic amenities. The disaster has thus far claimed 252 lives since July 2011, making efficient distribution a priority as conditions are not expected to ease quickly.

“It is hard to get donations to the people who need it most,” says Toey, a Red volunteer who works in Bangkok as a florist. “If they can not find you, you have to go and look for people and ask them what they need.”

He is, however, adamant that their decision to take matters into their own hands does not mean that the current government led by Yingluck Shinawatra, largely catapulted into power by the Red Shirts’ vote, is doing a  bad job. “We are just afraid that some people will get donations again and again, and some groups don’t get any. Some people can not walk to the main road to get donations because of the flood… The system is not working.”

One of the biggest obstacles they face is determining precisely what individual communities need. Recently, a convoy of Red Shirts drove to Uthai district in eastern Ayutthaya province, widely known to be Red Shirt territory. On the streets completely engulfed by Klong Khao Maow near Rojana Industrial Estate, some residents claim little or not enough assistance by officials whilst others say there are no problems.

“Some of them are told not to say bad things because Puea Thai are our government,” Toey explains. “But I am also a Red Shirt, but I can speak the truth.”


The main donations drop in Bangkok organised by a coalition of Red Shirt groups at Victory Monument roundabout. The collections tent was first raised in June 2011 and will soon boast a mini kitchen in the event of flooding in Bangkok city. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


A local resident tends to her property behind Klong Khao Maow, Uthai, Ayutthaya. The flooding situation has become especially difficult for the elderly as many refuse to leave their homes. Rmours of burglary in the area have resulted in some moving back into their houses despite rising water. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


A flooded house at Klong Khao Maow. The locals in Ayutthaya province are hardened and well aware that the water is unlikely to recede until November, as they had witnessed last year. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Trekking to the main road to collect donations and go to work has quickly become an obstacle for many villagers. As a large number of locals work at the nearby Rojana Industrial Estate and are still working despite current conditions, they are picked up by factory vehicles. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Locals unable to work as a result of the disaster have been spending time catching whatever they can to eat and sell. A Klong Khao Maow resident proudly offers deep fried snake freshly caught in the morning. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


A family in a makeshift shelter on the highway. Hundreds have parked their cars and a few have set up camp along the main roads as their homes have become inhospitable due to the rising water. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Locals and Red Shirt volunteers lift a boat through shallow water to prevent damage to the keel. Boats are an integral part of every day life in Ayutthaya province and are considered indispensable especially at this time of year. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Red Shirt volunteers unload donations collected from the drop-off tent at Victory Monument. They have completed a number of one-day missions around the Ayutthaya area over recent weeks but still struggle to find efficient ways to reach the most needy. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Red Shirt volunteers help locals load supplies onto boats. Cooperation between donation distribution groups and locals is critical at this point as the severity of conditions is changing on a daily basis, making communities at risk difficult to track. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Monks from the nearby Wat Khuntip assist in delivering donations. The temple had contacted the volunteers for assistance as it is three kilometres from the main road and impossible to reach by foot, making daily supply runs difficult for locals who are sheltering there. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Children are also vulnerable at this time, notably from water-borne diseases and infections. So far, the disaster has claimed 252 lives nationwide. Thousands have been sickened. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Volunteers pay respect and are blessed by a monk at Wat Khuntip before handing out donations. Temples around the country have become refuges for displaced families. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


An orderly queue is formed for the donation-giving. Around 60 families are currently residing at the temple as their homes are flooded by Klong Khao Maow. Food, water, amenities and basic medical supplies has been difficult to transport to submerged areas. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Volunteers hand out donations to the temporary residents of Wat Khuntip. Although some locals visit the temple only to deliver or collect supplies, many will be eating and sleeping here until the crisis is averted, especially the elderly and families with children. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Those staying at the temple have been relocated in the prayer rooms. Families are sharing utilities with the monks. Strong community ties ensure harmony in close quarters. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


A dog is finished with his bath at Wat Khuntip. There are many animals on site, even more than usual for a temple. This year’s crisis has been noted particularly for media coverage of swimming farm animals and rescued pets. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


The community at Wat Khuntip bids the volunteers farewell. Regular contact with both civilian and government relief groups is crucial in keeping spirits high in affected communities. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)


Locals organise their own supply runs along Klong Khao Maow. The speed at which the floodwaters have spread and the impossibility of surveying all areas that quickly become in need of assistance by government officials means that locals must effectively coordinate their own relief efforts for the duration of the flooding. (Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha)

Lillian Suwanrumpha is a freelance videographer and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. She can be followed on Twitter @TheLilyFish.