Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Flood

Imagine you're a government official and you have to decide whether this neighborhood or that neighborhood should suffer the worse effects of a flood. How would you decide? That's the dilemma facing Thai politicians now.

As you've probably heard, Thailand is experiencing its worst flooding in 60 years. Much of the north is underwater and is draining south toward the sea. At the bottom of this floodplain is the most populated part of the country, Bangkok, and it's the place we are at now as I write.

Though the flooding is extreme this year, it's a regular problem to a usually lesser degree. As a result, the government has built an extensive system of drainage canals, dykes and sluice gates. As the water has pressed down on Bangkok, officials have closed these gates and reinforced dykes and flood walls. The problem is that these measures have prevented the water from draining out of the north and into the sea. As a result, it has made flooding much worse in many areas. As you might imagine, this has made some people--namely those north of Bangkok--a bit angry. Sensing this, the government has announced today that all sluice gates, dykes and dams are "special zones" off limits to the public. Apparently they're worried people will take things into their own hands. Boy, I'd hate to be up for reelection in Thailand next year!

As for our visit, we have not been affected by the water. Yet. The street market we visited yesterday in northern Bangkok yesterday was dry, though the paper today said it's under threat of flooding in the next few days. Today we visit the Grand Palace, which will probably be the very last place they'll let floods enter.

Tomorrow, however, we fly out of Don Muang airport to Phuket. Muang is the old international airport and is used only for domestic flights now. Guess which side of town it's on? Yep, north. And a broken sluice gate has led to water flowing into the area, apparently onto the roads near the airport entrance. Right now it looks like all flights are still departing, but we're not sure what the situation will be in 24 hours. We may end up taking a very long bus ride to Phuket. I hope the bus terminal isn't under water...

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