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This fall, Mother Nature hasn’t been kind to Thailand.
Thai officials are calling the floods that have ravished their country the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. Mother Nature’s partner in crime: The Chao Phrya River.
This weekend, the swollen river that runs through Bangkok could burst its banks and break through the sandbags that are protecting businesses, homes and monuments. If that happens, much of the city center could be under water.
Save the Children estimates 800,000 children have been affected by the floods. Children are currently on school break and due to resume class in less than two weeks, but that seems increasingly unlikely.
More than 2,000 schools have been damaged and many are being used as evacuation centers. Six of Thailand’s industrial parks, which manufacture everything from computer hard disks to auto parts, have been inundated.
Global supply chains have been disrupted. Some 14,000 factories and more than 660,000 workers have affected been across 20 provinces. Stores are running out of water, baby formula and rice.
Some stores are now rationing bottled water, says Brian Jungwiwattanaporn who works for Save the Children in Bangkok. “Some shelves are noticeably bare,” he says. “Some people are hoarding food.”
He said bus stations are packed with people fleeing the capital and going to drier areas in the south of the country. While the floodwater level varies by areas — some places it’s ankle deep, other places it’s waist deep — the anxiety among Thais is high.
“People are still a bit shocked,” says Jungwiwattanaporn.
Save the Children has been loading supplies onto large trucks and driving them to locations where goods are transferred to boats. Staple good such as baby diapers and sleeping mats and foods like dried fish and chilli paste have been given to families who have decided not to or have been unable to leave their homes for evacuation centers.
Some families have been forced to relocate from evacuation centers because they, too, have been inundated with floodwaters.
“All the focus is on whether Bangkok will flood,” says Jungwiwattanaporn. “In reality, millions of people are affected already. The focus on Bangkok is detracting from the needs elsewhere.”
The Thai government estimates more than 3.2 million people have been affected by the recent floods, which have already reached more than 10,850 villages.
Flooding is not restricted to the city. In rural areas, rice crops were not harvested in time and, according to government estimates, 6 million tons of rice may have been lost.
Government officials believe the country could lose a quarter of its rice crop. Such a loss would surely have global consequences because Thailand is the world’s leading exporter of rice. Scores of livestock have also been killed.
In Bangkok, where children are often pitching in to help with flood relief efforts, floodwaters often arrive unexpectedly.
“I met one 16-year-old girl — her name was Petch — at an evacuation center,” says Jungwiwattanaporn. “She had left her home to go fill sandbags at her local temple. By the time she got home, the flood waters had risen and she’d lost all her belongings.”
Last Updated November 2011