Smith Dharmasarojana, former director-general of the Meteorological Department and present chairman of the National Disaster Warning Council Foundation, is interviewed by Bangkok Post reporter KING-OUA LAOHONG and blames current catastrophic flooding in the country on poor water management.
Does the widespread flooding send any unusual signal?
This incident does not result from a natural disaster. Our problem is that we do not know how to manage water. We did not assess from the beginning of the rainy season whether there would be lots of rain and how much water should have been held in the dams.
Every party kept water in large dams. The Irrigation Department and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) were afraid they would run out of water in the dry season. They made the wrong guess.
If rains continue throughout the middle and the end of the rainy season, the dams cannot hold all the water and now all large dams are full.
The problem is that all the full dams are discharging water simultaneously. The Central Plains below the dams has already suffered heavy rains. Consequently there is a massive amount of water. The simultaneous discharges from the dams have therefore caused flooding in many areas from Nakhon Sawan to Ayutthaya.
What should the immediate solution be now?
We should stop discharges from the three major dams — Bhumibol, Sirikit and Pasak Jolasid — right now because it is not raining above them. If the massive discharges continue and compound flooding in the Central Plains, floods will happen everywhere and cause damage worth hundreds of billions of baht.
We must also drain water from the big rivers, namely the Tha Chin, Chao Phraya and Bang Pakong into the sea as soon as possible to protect Bangkok. Big pumps must be installed at their estuaries. Accelerating boats in the middle of the wide Chao Phraya River is a waste because they propel only the water on the surface.
Does this show there is no teamwork among agencies concerned?
Without coordination among the Meteorological Department, the Irrigation Department and the Egat, we cannot determine the appropriate amount of water to be reserved. This eventually leads to flooding. Actually, discharges from the big dams can be managed. If water is not discharged from the three dams simultaneously, Bangkok, its outskirts, Ayutthaya and many other provinces will not be flooded.
Will Bangkok be flooded?
It will be to a certain extent. Some people believe the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration can divert floodwater from the capital but I do not believe in the BMA. It has not supervised floodwalls in the outskirts. Floodwalls in Pathum Thani have just collapsed. The BMA does not take care of them. In fact, the BMA should take action there because water from Pathum Thani will reach Bangkok.
I wonder if floodwalls around Bangkok are strong enough because there are soil dykes, concrete dykes and sandbag dykes, especially those in the suburbs that local administrative organisations have built and maintained.
They were built by contractors, not by knowledgeable experts, and they may not be strong enough.
I think Bangkok has a slim chance of surviving.