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Govt slammed for ‘flood warning failure’

Jan 15. 2017
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Calls for investigation as criticism mounts about alleged lapses in alert system.

DEVASTATING losses from raging floods in the South and Prachuap Khiri Khan province have led to criticism of authorities over the country’s flood early-warning system.

The inundation has caused multiple casualties and major property damage. 

In the eyes of many, such an adverse impact could have been averted or at least made less severe had relevant authorities properly warned people about early enough. 

Chainarong Sretthachau, a lecturer at Mahasarakham University, complained publicly via social media that the country had emergency response plans in place with clear assignments of what each relevant unit or official must do. 

“So when a government agency fails to comply with the plan, it commits a violation. Its offence is not just a human error – it has failed to comply with the law-endorsed plan. Because of its violation, disasters have struck,” he said. 

Chainarong suggested that victims should sue the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) because there was no flood-disaster warning despite a provincial disaster prevention plan having authorised the RID to activate such a move.

“The provincial disaster plan had been updated three months ago and detailed which agency would issue flood warnings, evacuations and mitigation. But as we have seen from Bang Saphan district in Prachuap Khiri Khan, [it is obvious] who did nothing, who neglected, who were deliberately careless,” he said. 

The RID had information in its hands about water levels at three reservoirs and they knew the rainfall amount, he said, questioning why the agency didn’t lower the water or manage it so the reservoirs would not overflow. 

He said authorities should set up a fact-finding committee to investigate what caused the Bang Saphan flood and which agencies or officials neglected their duties. “Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s remark that people wouldn’t evacuate despite a warning is a dismissal of responsibility. The government’s job is to find evidence if the people were warned. If they weren’t warned, the government must take action and fix the loophole. 

“Just going with such a remark, no agency would respond to what happened and no one would be accountable to it,” Chainarong said. 

It was distressing to see vehicles float around in floodwaters and houses submerged to their roofs. Many people have complained that they could have been more prepared to deal with flooding, if they had known in advance that floodwaters would arrive. Indeed, many flood victims have pointed the fingers at authorities. 

“Why wouldn’t the RID warn us that water will be spilling out of dykes?” is one common question posed on social media. 

Water overflowed from at least three reservoirs in Prachuap Khiri Khan last week, throwing locals into a nightmarish situation. 

Floodwater swamped their houses. Floodwater levels kept soaring to a point that even items that had been put at a higher spots were swamped too. 

Because of the serious damage caused by the floods, one woman hanged herself out of stress in Prachuap Khiri Khan. This was on top of other flood-related deaths in the province.

The RID has tried to dismiss the criticism by explaining that it had informed relevant agencies of the threatening water volume and that it was their duty to inform people. 

But Chainarong said in the face of imminent risk, the RID should have spoken up publicly. “Because the department chose to wait for others to do the job, people living downstream have suffered,” he said. 

 Maitree Kongkraijak, co-ordinator for the tsunami disaster network representing the Ban Nam Khem community in Phang Nga province, recommended that relevant authorities integrate their early-warning system. 

“Without integration, these authorities are prone to think one of them will take action. When none do anything to warn people in advance, the scope of damages are massive,” he said. 

Maitree has been helping flood-affected people in Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Cha-uat district since January 5.

Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda insisted that people were informed in advance but many people did not believe local officials. 

Maitree responded by saying that authorities would need to review their approach, if people did not take heed of the warnings. 

According to him, local people need help from government agencies because even with their efforts to strengthen their emergency-response abilities, they cannot estimate the extent of the danger by themselves. 

Komes Thongboonchu, manager of a project for a community wellbeing network and a coordinator for a natural-disaster response network in the South, said the raging floods had been the biggest inundation in the region in half a century. 

He said his network had worked closely with local administrative officials in Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Cha-Uat district in informing locals in advance. 

“But people who got the advice moved their belongings to higher spots but those spots proved not high enough to evade floodwater that soared so high this time,” Komes said. 

He believed that if the weather bureau provided forecasts for more specific areas, the early-warning system and preparations would become more effective. 

“Don’t predict the situation for the whole eastern part of the South. Be more specific,” he said.

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