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PM takes charge of flood crisis

Posted by arnon_k On October - 22 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

Disaster law invoked as deluge enters city

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has invoked the disaster prevention law to take full control of flood operations as run-off from the North has started surging into Bangkok.

Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra yesterday said there were signs the northern run-off has entered the capital.

First, the water level in Khlong 2 in Rangsit continued to rise despite the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) opening its floodgate wider.

Second, the rising floodwater broke an embankment at Phahon Yothin Road near Khlong Rangsit in Pathum Thani, causing water to spill on to the streets.

However, the governor said flood barriers are expected to be put in place in time to ease the impact on central Bangkok.

Soldiers have now been deployed in flood-prone areas to watch for any emergencies, the governor said, adding that military trucks are ready to evacuate people.

In the face of an increasingly tense battle with the rising water and what appeared to be inter-agency bickering, Prime Minister Yingluck yesterday invoked the disaster prevention law to consolidate power over flood management efforts.

Section 31 of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act (2007) gives the prime minister full control over officials around the country, including in Bangkok.

Under the law, all officials must report directly to the prime minister as the director of the relief operation. Those who refuse to follow orders can be prosecuted for malfeasance or serious dereliction of duty.

Following the invocation of the law, the premier ordered the BMA to open all sluice gates in Bangkok to allow the overflow from the North to pass through the city and on to the sea. The amount of waterflow will be controlled so the capital is not harmed.

The invocation of the law follows a perceived conflict between City Hall and the government’s Flood Relief Operations Command (Froc).

Despite Froc’s request, the BMA has reportedly refused to open all sluice gates in Bangkok to allow floodwater to drain through the city’s canal network.

“I’m asking the BMA to fully perform its duty,” said Ms Yingluck.

“I’m pleased the BMA will [manage the overflow], and Froc is ready to give support. But if the BMA can’t take care of it, Froc will take over.”

The premier has also appointed a committee to manage flood drainage in disaster areas chaired by Veera Wongsaengnak, former deputy chief of the Royal Irrigation Department.

The committee, made up of former RID chiefs and experts in water management and geoinformatics, will lay down guidelines for Froc to deal with the floods. It will also work with the BMA regarding waterflow management.

Ms Yingluck said some agencies were ordered to open all floodgates for full water drainage but later checks found they did not comply. It is understood she was referring to City Hall.

In invoking the disaster law, Ms Yingluck also ordered the Defence Ministry and the army to protect key places, including the Grand Palace, other palaces, Siriraj Hospital, flood barrier lines, utilities units and Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.

Froc yesterday also set up a forward command, headed by permanent secretary for interior Pranai Suwanrath, to oversee flood operations in east Bangkok.

Responding to the invocation of the disaster prevention law, MR Sukhumbhand insisted it does not affect City Hall’s powers to manage the flood.

He said the law actually enables the BMA to instruct state agencies that do not come under City Hall under normal circumstances to assist in flood relief operations in the capital.

MR Sukhumbhand rejected suggestions of a conflict between him and the government on how to deal with floods.

“There are just different interpretations,” he said, adding that City Hall has cooperated by opening some sluice gates in Bangkok, though not all of them.

Meanwhile, some areas of Don Muang and Laksi districts in Bangkok have been inundated by overflow from Khlong Prapa.

Metropolitan Waterworks Authority governor Charoen Phassa yesterday said run-off had burst through a flood barrier at Khlong Bang Luang in Bangkok Yai district and swept into Khlong Prapa.

The incident caused the canal to overflow into Don Muang and Chaeng Wattana Road in Laksi.

The overflow problem has been brought under control and the floods there are expected to recede in the next few days, Mr Charoen said.

Don Muang district office chief Phumiphat Damrongkiatisak said Khlong Prapa’s rising levels breached a barrier and flooded a 500m section of Song Prapa Road in Don Muang. Efforts were being made to pump the water into Khlong Prem Prachakorn.

MR Sukhumbhand, however, expressed concern that if the water in Khlong Prapa continues to rise, then floods will be inevitable on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.

The governor said that more than 1,400 residents in Don Muang affected by floods have been evacuated to two evacuation shelters in the area.

Govt sets plans to help victims

Posted by arnon_k On October - 21 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

The priority is to ensure that people can recover

The government’s flood aftermath committee has produced a number of solutions to help flood victims recover and re-establish themselves.

The committee, set up on Oct 12, yesterday held its first meeting.

Social Development and Human Security Minister Santi Prompat, who attended the meeting, said Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had ordered the committee to divide the aid strategy into two phases.

Mr Santi said the first phase would cover the first 15 days, and would focus on establishing shelters, and providing food and job training.

Solutions for the second phase, which will cover the next 15 days, have yet to be decided.

Mr Santi said the ministry could help set up evacuation centres and support those of other organisations. Staff would assess the condition of flood victims to see how it could help.

The ministry has set up 30 evacuation centres, 240 roadside kitchens, and temporary shelters.

The committee will focus on expediting work on the eastern side of Bangkok, where the deluge was pressing the hardest.

Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap said 620,000 workers have been affected by the floods, mainly after their inundated factories closed down.

Mr Padermchai said the Social Security Office would pay out compensation of 50% of wages to those whose contracts were terminated. Instructors would train workers in new skills.

Education Minister Woravat Au-apinyakul said foreigners had contacted Thai embassies abroad to say they were interested in helping with flood relief operations during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Mr Woravat said 338 schools were serving as evacuation centres.

Ministry staff will pause their daily routines to help flood victims.

The ministry also plans to propose a 1.4 billion baht budget for post-flood restoration.

A charity could be organised to accept donations or to buy items to replace damaged ones, he said.

The ministry also has plans to give out interest-free loans of 100,000 to 200,000 baht for two to three years to its staff to repair their flood damaged homes.

Yingluck government slow to respond to flood crisis

Posted by arnon_k On October - 15 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

The flood crisis has hurt the Yingluck Shinawatra government, with critics saying it underestimated the problem, says a Post Today analyst.

When her Pheu Thai party was in opposition last year, the party criticised the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration for its slow response to that year’s floods.

Plodprasop Suraswadi, deputy party leader, spoke in the House of Representatives on Oct 30, 2010.

”The government must help affected flood victims quickly,” he said.

”A centre must be set up to coordinate donated items and relief work and the prime minister must personally chair and issue orders from the centre. The operation must be carried out transparently.”

Now Pheu Thai is in government, facing the same problem but on a greater scale.

No one can predict when the crisis will end. People in Bangkok have been warned to prepare for floods from tomorrow to Tuesday when run-off from the North will meet the high tide from the sea and even more rain.

The high tide will arrive again at the end of the month and there might be more tropical storms as well.

This year’s flood crisis covers about 59 provinces.

Floods have practically inundated the whole of Ayutthaya province, moving to Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi and are now on the verge of flooding eastern Bangkok’s Lat Krabang, Min Buri and Nong Chok.

Ms Yingluck has admitted Bangkok might be flooded while Bangkok governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has warned residents to prepare for possible widespread floods.

The damage to the people’s property, agriculture and industry could reach over 100 billion baht.

During last year’s floods, the Pheu Thai Party criticised the Abhisit government for being ill-prepared and unable to help people promptly.

Now the criticism has come back to haunt the government. The floods began nearly two months ago as Ms Yingluck and her team took office.

The government did not pay much attention to the flood problems as the government relied on bureaucrats in the provinces to deal with the situation.

The government adopted the so-called ”Bang Rakam Model” for tackling floods, when Ms Yingluck visited Bang Rakam in Phitsanulok to inspect the floods there.

For the past two months, the Yingluck government has been occupied more with transferring bureaucrats and implementing policies.

Only when the floods began to inundate several provinces in the Central Plains and threatening Bangkok did the government begin to treat the problem seriously by establishing a flood relief operation centre at Don Mueng airport.

Justice Minister Pol Gen Pracha Phromnok is directing the centre, with acting permanent secretary of the interior Phranai Suwanrat as his deputy.

Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop heads the relief operation.

It is strange that provincial governors _ who are close to the people and well positioned to respond to their needs _ work under Interior Ministry and yet Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Yongyuth Wichaidit does not have a role at the centre, notes Post Today.

Admitting the government was slow to respond, Mr Plodprasop told one TV programme that: ”We came late, but better than not at all.”

Ms Yingluck, meanwhile, told a national telecast that the floods were much worse than originally thought.

Mr Plodprasop said the government under-estimated the volume of water travelling from the North, which flooded Nakhon Sawan, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani.

The government would adjust its strategy from fighting the torrent to evacuating people to higher ground.
Floods cut GDP growth

The floods have caused extensive damage and affected about 2.38 million people, says Post Today.

Forecasters can’t agree on the scale of the damage.

The Bank of Thailand and the Finance Ministry estimated the damages at 60 billion baht or about 0.6% of GDP.

The National Economic and Social Development Board put the damage at 89 billion baht, while Kasikorn Thai’s Research Centre believes the figure is as high as 120 billion baht.

Three large industrial estates in Ayutthaya are now under water.

Several other industrial estates in Ayutthaya, Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan are under threat. It is inevitable the floods will affect GDP.

If the factories submerged by floods cannot recover this year, next year’s GDP will also be hit.

Millions of farmers are also badly affected as their cash crops will be under water for several months.

They will be heavily in debt, resulting in lower domestic demand for goods and services.

Tourism will begin its high season in November.

If the floods do not recede by then, another important economic engine will stutter.

Meanwhile, large sums earmarked for investment by the government will be diverted to reconstruction, depressing the investment climate.

Growth, initially forecast at 3.5-4%, may contract to 3%, which means the government’s revenue collection will be below target, affecting the country’s fiscal position. The government’s public debt will worsen.

Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat Na Ranong said the government may have to revise its budget to improve water management infrastructure, which means money has to be diverted from projects elsewhere.

Abhisit meets Yingluck to discuss crisis

Posted by arnon_k On October - 12 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

Banned TRT politicians also join relief efforts

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday made a surprise visit to the government’s flood relief operations centre at Don Mueang airport.

Mr Abhisit led top Democrat MPs, including former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, to meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, with whom he discussed proposed measures to protect Bangkok from flooding.

After the discussion, which lasted about 30 minutes, Ms Yingluck said she had explained to Mr Abhisit the flood situation in each river basin nationwide, the overall situation in Bangkok and how the government had prepared to protect the capital.

Tackling the flooding is now the top national priority, Ms Yingluck said.

Mr Abhisit said he made suggestions on how to deal with the floods, including bringing together all flood relief centres set up by the government under one roof to ensure a unified approach. He also said the government should determine which areas need urgent help and that it should evacuate people living in riverside communities immediately.

The prime minister should also exercise special powers as she sees fit to solve flood problems, Mr Abhisit said.

He also suggested that the government make use of a 70,000-square-metre cargo warehouse at Don Mueang airport to accommodate flood victims.

Prime Minister’s Office Minister Surawit Khonsomboon said the government had asked for help from banned politicians of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party who had dealt with the aftermath of previous floods and the 2004 tsunami.

The banned politicians, who were spotted travelling to the flood relief operations centre at Don Mueang, included Varathep Ratanakorn, Sidha Thiwaree, Suranand Vejjajiva, Noppadon Pattama, Puangpet Choonla-eiad and Phumtham Wechayachai.

Mr Varathep said he had met with some members of House No.111, a foundation formed by the banned politicians, after being approached by the government and that he and his colleagues were ready to help.

He said the group would work with a government-appointed committee charged with dealing with the flooding and would provide useful advice.

“We will draw from our experience when we were ministers,” he said. “We will help the government coordinate with others [whom we know] to seek their help [because] we have extensive connections,” he said.

The group would not make suggestions that obstruct the government’s flood relief work.

He rejected criticism that the group had emerged in an effort to reintroduce themselves to the public and voters ahead of the end of their five-year political ban in May.

A cabinet source said Deputy Premier Chalerm Yubamrung told the cabinet yesterday that he wanted all ministers to look back to information released by the Royal Irrigation Department seven months ago that predicted there would only be enough water this year for farmers to grow one crop of rice.

The source said Mr Chalerm said the department had miscalculated, prompting him to believe that the error was the result of nationwide water retention and control efforts and that the dams had not released enough water when it was raining several months ago.