GENEVA, 20 October 2011
- Earlier today, Thailand’s Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, said it was impossible to protect all of Bangkok from the worst floods in decades, describing the situation as a national crisis.
"We cannot block the water forever. The longer we block the water the higher it gets. We need areas where water can be drained so it can flow out to the sea."
Shinawatra said the city's floodwalls had been put up to prevent the floods pouring into the densely populated city from the central plains, which are several metres under water in places. "Flood waters are coming from every direction and we cannot control them because it's a huge amount of water. This problem is very overwhelming.”
Inner Bangkok has so far escaped major flooding as water is being diverted to areas outside the main capital to prevent the Chao Phraya River overflowing its banks and flooding Thailand’s capital. The main airport is still operating as normal and its flood defences have been reinforced.
Severe floods have devastated large areas of Cambodia, Viet Nam, the Philippines, and the Democratic People Republic of Korea. And as of today, Bangkok now seems destined to join one third of Thailand which is under water in a regional disaster that UNISDR’s Asia-Pacific office is now describing as catastrophic.
UNISDR’s Asia-Pacific Chief Jerry Velasquez equated the floods to a slow tsunami stating that populations could be warned in advance. “But we must also be aware that efforts to keep this city of 12 million people dry have been complicated by a seasonal high tide.”
Three months of monsoon rains in Thailand have killed 320 people, damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions and forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in shelters.
“The other main point is the death toll of children which is really high”, remarks Velasquez. “If there’s one thing we’ve achieved over so many years of prevention is reduction in the numbers killed by disasters. But the number of children killed in these floods is really high. Thirty-eight out of 43 deaths in Viet Nam, half of the 247 mortalities in Cambodia, and 52 out of 320 in Thailand. Many drowned because they did not know how to swim. Countries exposed to flooding should invest in education and teach their children how to swim."
And as Bangkok prepares for floods within the next 24 hours the 33rd meeting of the ASEAN Sub-Committee on Meteorology and Geophysics (SCMG) concluded today in Brunei Darussalam with the urgent implementation of early warning systems to reduce disaster risks dominating three days of talks.
Acting Permanent Secretary in Brunei’s Ministry of Communications, Abdul Mutalib said: "The consequences of climate change are becoming more apparent now. Rising sea levels have increased the risk of disastrous floods. Shifting weather patterns are now affecting food productions in some parts of the world. The importance of early warning systems cannot be more defined".
UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser added his voice to those of other UN officials expressing sympathy and concern at the deaths of hundreds of flood victims in South-East Asia reiterating that improving disaster prevention and response remains one of key focus areas for the Assembly’s 66th session and urging all Member States to do more to enhance the resilience and capacity of communities for dealing with major disasters.