Thailand has been widely criticized last year for its lack of preparedness regarding the flooding disaster, causing billions of economic damages, and a very high level of casualties. At least to 800 persons died during the flooding episode of 2011. Now the message Thai authorities are willing to publicize is fairly straightforward: it won’t happen again because we have learned a lesson, and work has been done.
Heavy rain flooded most of Thailand this last yer, affected nine million people in 51 of the country’s 75 provinces, and underscored the country’s need for better community disaster preparedness, government officials say.
“We worry that the safety culture of the people is quite low,” said Montri Chanachaiviboonwat, director of the national Bureau of Disaster Management Department. “Some went to pray and had to swim through the water. Others went fishing.”
Dr Virabongsa Ramangkura, chairperson of the Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF), said on Wednesday he was confident Thailand will not face a repetition of last year’s flood crisis, as the government has been on the right track on water management and flood prevention.
He spoke on the direction of the Thai economy on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Thai Television and 35th anniversary of MCOT, Thailand’s leading broadcasting company.
Dr Virabongsa said the government has invested more than Bt350 billion to improve flood prevention infrastructure. More flood embankments, canals and flood-related structures have been built, which he said would prevent future floods and the public could rest assured of the matter.
He also added if major floods do happen, neither this government nor himself in his position could last long.
Thailand’s worst flood in decades late last year devastated vast areas of the kingdom, especially in the central plains where major industrial estates are located, and left more than 600 people dead.
The estimated financial losses of industrial plants due to the flood crisis reached Bt230 billion, according to the Department of Industrial Works.
“Foreign investors are [now] more confident in investing in Thailand,” he said as evidenced by only Bt350 million of the government’s Bt50 billion insurance fund being used. “Such a fund might not be necessary in the future,” Dr Virabongsa said.
Apart from flood prevention plans, he said the government must improve and modernise the country’s infrastructure such as railways and information technology in order to support expansion of the business sector.
The Government attaches great importance to disaster preparedness and has undertaken precautionary measures to handle emergency situations.
The issue of disaster preparedness and measures to handle emergency situations has become a major topic of discussion in Thailand, following a recent series of tremors in the southern province of Phuket.
The tremors came after the earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale struck on April 11 near the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The quake was followed by aftershocks measuring up to 8.8 on the Richter scale. This prompted the National Disaster Warning Center to issue a tsunami warning and an evacuation order for people located on the Andaman coast in the southern provinces of Satun, Trang, Krabi,
Phuket, Phang-nga ,and Ranong to move to higher ground as a safety precaution. However, as the waves that eventually reached Thailand’s coast along the Andaman Sea proved to be rather small and did not cause any damage, the National Disaster Warning Center decided to lift its tsunami warning and evacuation order on the same day.
Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Yongyoot Wichaidit said that more seismographs should be installed and additional evacuation routes should be designated in the coastal provinces of Phuket, Phang-nga, Krabi, and Ranong.
Public Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri said that the authorities concerned had been instructed to draw up plans to deal with possible earthquakes. Emphasis is placed on three groups of provinces.
The first group involves seven southern provinces, namely Krabi, Chumphon, Phang-nga, Phuket, Ranong, Songkhla, and Surat Thani. The second group comprises nine northern provinces, namely Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Tak, Nan, Phrae, Phayao, Lampang, and Lamphun. The third group consists of six provinces in the central region. They are Kanchanaburi Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, and Bangkok. Among the 22 provinces, some are considered earthquake-prone areas with fault lines.
The Ministry of Public Health has instructed health officials to prepare rescue teams, medical supplies, and mobile hospitals. They have also been told to set up command centers responsible for taking care of and transferring patients.
Regarding the aftershocks in Phuket, local residents have been urged not to panic, since the tremors were mild and would not cause serious damage. They were also asked not to believe a rumor posted on a social network predicting that Phuket would sink into the sea.
The authorities are ready to provide assistance and inform and alert the public in case of emergency situations. Handbooks on earthquakes will be published and distributed to members of the public as part of disaster preparedness.