By Piyaporn Wongruang
Fears of more flooding in the Chao Phraya Basin have subsided for now after the Royal Irrigation Department (RID) announced that water levels in the river had fallen since the beginning of the week.
Pressure has eased on the Chao Phraya Dam in Chai Nat province, which regulates the flow of the channel as it sweeps across the plains to Bangkok and into the sea in Samut Prakan province.
However, the RID added that, since a depression was forecast, it would not be lowering its guard by cutting the rate of discharge from the dam. That rate stands at nearly 2,300 cubic metres of water per second, which gives the RID drainage capacity to handle increased upstream flow in the coming days. However, it also means that people living in low-lying areas downstream will continue to endure flooding that has inundated their communities for nearly a month now.
These include at least seven districts in Chai Nat running south to Ayutthaya, where thousands of residents are living amid floods.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha revealed the Cabinet had approved a proposal from the Agricultural and Cooperatives Ministry to compensate flood-affected farmers at a rate of Bt3,000 per household.
More interesting was his mention of consideration of aid for residents living in areas of “sacrifice” – low-lying places surrendered up to the rising waters so that downstream areas could be saved.
Prayut pleaded for understanding over the government’s flood-compensation scheme, pointing out it could not cover every victim everywhere.
He went on to explain the need for “sacrifice”:
“If [low-lying area] need to be sacrificed, then sacrifice. … We need to have an understanding about this, otherwise how can we get enough money to compensate [victims] as wished?”
Prayut’s words were blunt, but the message was in keeping with the public’s general view of flood-susceptible lowlands and their residents. However, that perception is too static and fails to take into account how changes in land use and lifestyle – many of them a result of government policy – have increased the risk of flooding for many Thais.
The low-lying plains that sweep from Chai Nat down to Rangsit, above Bangkok, have long been the country’s rice bowl and enjoy the most sophisticated irrigation system. As a result, farmers here have invested heavily in growing huge volumes of rice for export, which means that water is trapped in fields and no longer flows freely through the province as it did in the past. Meanwhile their villages have turned into towns of concrete and modern housing, making them as prone to flood damage as Bangkok.
The idea that these areas are low-lying and so should naturally suffer the brunt of flooding is a faulty notion invented as a justification for the self-preservation of those living downstream. It allows us to explain away the tears and suffering of low-income farmers as inevitable.
It would be better if they were not sacrificed on the altar of a faulty and self-serving notion.