Thailand Could Have Prevented Killer Landslides

BANGKOK, Thailand, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - Flash floods which have killed 147 people in northern Thailand this week demonstrate the need for preventive measures, the chief of a United Nations agency said today.

Reforestation and flood control measures were proposed 12 years ago by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the agency's executive secretary Kim Hak-Su said.

Floods in northern Thailand have left 147 people dead, more than 450,000 others affected and damage to property and homes estimated at $US12 million. Worst hit is the province of Petchabun where 115 villagers were killed when their villages were washed away in landslides.

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ESCAP Executive Secretary Kim Hak-Su (Photo courtesy ESCAP)
"Twelve years ago southern Thailand experienced a similar type of disasters as what is going on now in the north, Kim said. An ESCAP expert team at the invitation of the Thai government had visited the area, and made a number of recommendations.

Halting the deterioration of the forest cover, establishment of flood warning systems and a central flood authority were among the comprehensive measures recommended. It appears that the recommended measures for prevention of such hazards elsewhere in the country have gone unheeded," said Kim.

With the northern and northeastern provinces of Thailand severely affected by heavy rainfall and associated landslides, causing considerable loss of lives and extensive damage to property, Thailand needs to revisit these safety measures, he said.

Survivors of floods in five villages in the northeastern province of Udorn Thani, hit by the same heavy rains as in Phetchabun, were provided with food items by the Thai Red Cross, helped by 100 Royal Thai Army soldiers.

Dr. Kornkiat Snidvongs, deputy head of the Thai Red Cross' relief section for Udorn Thani, said 15 of the province's 16 districts had been submerged. "People I have talked to in Udorn Thani province say the flooding is the worst they have ever seen. People are starving in their houses but they cannot get out. Transportation of Red Cross supplies is difficult. We are using high-wheel army trucks and flat-bottom boats to provide flood casualties with food and water," Dr. Snidvongs said.

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Up to their knees in flood waters, Thai Red Cross workers deliver aid. (Photo courtesy International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent)
"Many other parts of Thailand face similar hazards and lessons must be learned from the past and present disasters in order to take adequate and appropriate preventive measures against such hazards," Kim warned.

Reforestation activities are still recommended for northern Thailand, Kim said. Proper watershed management and appropriate agricultural practices need to be introduced. A survey of the environmental conditions at the damaged areas should also be made, he recommended.

Considering that the area is still vulnerable to similar flooding, establishment of flood forecasting and warning systems in the area should be considered.

Kim suggested that serious consideration be given to setting up a central flood control authority with nationwide responsibility for planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of flood control activities and works. Such a central flood control organization could work will in river basins shared by two or more provinces.

"The lessons learned in the Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat provinces, together with the information on the landslides that caused severe damage in the north and northeast parts of the country, can be used to aid in the early recognition of landslides hazards throughout the country. Now is not too late," said an ESCAP flood expert.