By Chularat Saengpassa
AFTER THE overwhelming success in rescuing the 13 trapped footballers from the flooded Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province, experts believe Thailand now needs to focus on coming up with a sustainable plan that can prevent such an incident from recurring.
“Let’s prepare a road map to address the issue because there are more than 100 caves for tourists in Thailand,” Asst Professor Sombat Yumuang, who heads the Chulalongkorn University’s Geoinformatics Centre for Thailand, said late last week.
The Mu Pa Academy footballers had visited the cave on June 23 but flash floods left them stranded inside. Until July 2, they were all on their own before rescuers spotted them alive. Due to the huge challenges within the cave, the evacuation of the footballers started only on July 8 even as the world watched with bated breath.
Among the many obstacles the rescuers faced were the lack of details about the interiors of the cave.
“It’s best that we learn a lesson. We need to draw up a map explaining the structure and geography of the cave, with all the depth and the exact global positioning location information. We also need to provide safety information,” Sombat emphasised.
He said when such crucial information is made available to the public, visitors to the cave would be able to take precautions.
Sombat said with today’s technology, it would even be possible to create a mobile application for cave visitors to know what to expect and what to avoid.
“That’s the prevention part of the road map. The other parts should deal with crisis or emergency management, and there should be a post-crisis plan as well,” he said.
Sombat suggested that it would be a good idea to close the Tham Luang cave to tourists until a full assessment is made of the latest crisis and preparations are made to prevent such an incident.
“Tham Luang has now become famous all over the world. I believe many more tourists will visit it. So, it’s best that we work on the rehabilitation and preparations,” he said.
Engineering Institute of Thailand’s president Thanes Weerasiri said his organisation would host a seminar on lessons from Tham Luang case on July 19.
“We will invite people working at the field to discuss challenges and what we need to plan for the future,” he said.
Thanes said his team found GPS did not work inside the cave.
“I believe we should conduct CT scan or create 3D images of every cave in Thailand,” he said.
Thanya Netithammakun, who heads the Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plants Conservation (DNP), has lately said his agency had already drawn up a plan too.
“Laying down a safety system and emergency-response system is a part of it,” he assured.
The plan will involve an initial budget of Bt42 million. It will cover cave-compound management, provide specialised staff and also establish a tourist and security centre. This is on top of the exhibition and service zone.
Another senior official at the DNP said that as many as 16 security cameras might be installed inside the Tham Luang cave alone and 32 others around the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non forest park where the cave is situated.
“We also plan to upgrade the Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non forest park into a national park,” Thanya disclosed.
Thanya last week instructed agencies under his supervision to examine caves in areas under their jurisdictions and take safety precautions.
“If there are risks at some spots, inform tourists. If there are seasonal risks, consider closing some attractions during some periods of the year based on DNP guidelines,” he said.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and other organisations haveurged the chief of the joint rescue operation command, Narongsak Osottanakorn, to properly restore the Tham Luang cave. In their joint statement, they explained the need to consider the environmental impact, including the cave’s biodiversity, if Tham Luang were to be developed as a major attraction.
The statement also expressed appreciation that the command and the DNP had vowed to rehabilitate Tham Luang and restore the natural water flow in the cave’s vicinity.
As part of efforts to reduce the floodwater level inside the cave to facilitate rescue operations, the landscape at some spots near the cave was adjusted to prevent water from flowing into the cave.
DNP deputy director-general Chongklai Worapongsathorn said the landscape would be restored to its original condition.
“As for natural shafts above the cave, we in collaboration with the Mineral Resources Department will fill three shafts that have been drilled,” he assured.
Shafts above the cave had been extensively explored during rescue operations as rescue planners at some points believed it might be necessary to drill down or tunnel down to rescue stranded survivors.