Tim Redford in Thailand reporting from the Freeland base of conditions during the floods…..
Over the last 2 weeks the world’s press has been reporting on the latest catastrophe to befall Thailand. A combination of heavy rainfall and incompetent water management in the nation’s largest dams has led to the worst flooding in 50 years. Consequently, more than 370 people have died and all of Thailand’s central region, the main heart of the rice-growing area, is now under 2 metres of water. The floods have also inundated all the major industrial areas and put nearly 700,000 people out of work.
Recent political differences and distrust of the military have been put to one side as all try to prevent the nation’s capital, Bangkok, from going under. A series of canals and lock gates means water can be directed either eastwards or westwards avoiding the city and released into the sea at low tide or pumped over water barriers during high tide.
Unfortunately, on the 28th October there was an extremely high tide and the Chao Phraya river overflowed twice, putting streets near the river under a metre of water. This quickly drained away after 2 or 3 hours, but it may be several months before the main flood areas in the central region drain. Luckily, the Southwest monsoon has now finished and it is the dry-season until April, so further flooding is not expected.How has this affected the wildlife? Well luckily not a great deal. The protected area system in Thailand is mainly concentrated in highland forest areas, in fact in the drowned central region there are not any national parks at all. Certainly, the rainfall was higher than usual, but not enough to affect the ecology of the monsoon forests which annually receive 5 months of rain.
Male#2 patrols his territory in the rain
Here at FREELAND some of our staff have had their houses flooded and these remain uninhabitable. Some staff took emergency leave to move house, families and pets to higher ground. Our office in downtown Sukhumvit remains dry and so we have been able to continue working through this crisis.
Activities have included our on-the-job training for rangers, tiger survey’s and planning for a data- collection and analysis course at Pang Sida National Park. There was just one area with four cameratraps that we could not access because of rivers in spate. Luckily, the cameras were not flooded and they have now been retrieved, albeit with flat batteries. From the photographs we have identified all the tigers we regularly see, which is a relief to us as we were not quite such what the impact of this extra rain may be. The tigers have been quite active; moving large distances – which we assume is to maintain their territories through scent marking, since the rain quickly washes any smells or tracks away.
Escaped crocs make wading a little hazardous in areas. Photo AP
Unfortunately, the situation for domestic animals has not been so secure. Farms have been totally washed away in some areas, cows, pigs and chicken have drowned, local and international animal welfare groups have been working overtime to move remaining animals to safe areas.
Thailand has more than 200 crocodile farms and there has now been a mass reintroduction project, this has led to a number of severe injuries among gung-ho members of the public, after farms offered up to £200 per crocodile for their live return. Generally, the crocodiles stay away from people and there have not been any unprovoked attacks.
There are still large areas where people have no services or utilities, such as tap water and electricity. Boats are the only way these people can be reached and life is extremely hard for them since all the shops are closed and even far away panic-buying empties the shelves within minutes of being restocked. Unscrupulous vendors are holding back supplies to bump up the price and some have been caught by the authorities who have introduced emergency measures to deal with them.
Northern Bangkok, photo CNBC
Should you come to Thailand on holiday? I say yes, the beach areas and highlands are unaffected, the main airport – Suvannabhumi is still dry and flights through there area are operating as normal and so pretty much all of Thailand can be accesses by plane.
The country is hurting and in need of help, especially money. Tourism contributes about 7% of Thailand’s GDP and this if the tourists keep coming then Thailand’s people can survive without aid. It will be a long time before industry or agricultural production recovers and so tourism will be a mainstay of the recovery.