|Urban sprawl encroaching on waterways like the commute boat canal shown here is a concern for some. Many old khlongs have been filled in and built upon.|
2011 was the wettest of years recorded so far by the Thai Meteorological Department: rainfall was 24% above normal (that's 37.4cm or +/- 15 inches) and 19% above 2010 levels. If that's the beginning of a trend it's likely to be a disturbing one, as the Thai government - like our own here in the USA - tends to put preparedness a tad too far down their Wish List to be practical. The middle Southern parts of the country seemed to get it first in 2011, beginning in March, but crops were decimated in province after province as the season went on.
Flooding from the rains effected every province in Thailand; some far more dramatically than others. Over two-thirds of the country's 77 provinces were flooded to one degree or another, and although final death tolls may never be known for sure there were well over 600 lives recorded lost, mainly by drowning.
Crops were destroyed wholesale beneath unwelcome swaths of water, miles wide; homes and businesses were ankle, knee, waist or chest deep, depending on where they happened to be, and basic creature needs like food and potable water suffered critical shortages. Those of you who've been there can imagine how the rat nests of haphazard electrical wiring throughout the kingdom wreaked havoc (dozens died from electrocution alone) and the government conservatively estimated that 1.5 million tons of debris remained as a soggy souvenir when the water receded.
While thankfully most of my friends there were spared irreparable damage from the flooding some are still dealing with the clean-up, black mold and mildew - and are doing it while working six day a week jobs. We truly don't know how good we have it sometimes.
Summer for Thailand in general begins in the middle of February, and those rising temperatures sound the closing bell for tourism's "high" season. The rains normally begin in May, but because of unusual weather patterns last year they started earlier, stayed heavier than usual and lasted later into the year. Therein lay the problem.
It's not just that the area around Bangkok (and the city itself) lies on a flood plane, part of the problem is how that very flood plane that previously filtered the rainwater into the "bare" ground has now been built upon; industry claiming the space and paving it over.
Others (and I find myself leaning toward this thinking myself) maintain that Bangkok, long called "The Venice of the East" has simply filled in and paved over far too many of the canals that once graced - and helped move water through - the city, and water will find a way to seek its own level, whether you allow it a planned "natural" path or not.
It was unseasonably hot while I was there this trip just ending, and many I spoke with shared a genuine worry that the weather would again take another perverse turn and bring another season of heavy rains. While last year's had nothing on the flooding spoken of in the times of Noah, it would be again be devastating to the people who are just now getting back on their feet from the flooding of a few months ago.
Tourism most certainly doesn't need another kick in the stomach, but you can guess that it will give some vacation planners pause when making plans for this coming year, and that's not a good thing for the industry.
Despite the assurances of the government that they'd be ready for another round of high water and the sincere desire of the Thai to believe them, you can hear doubt in their voices - and see it in their eyes.
[By the way - those wishing to read the full detailed 2011/2554 report from the TMD referenced today can find the PDF here - and there are photos from last year's flooding in this post from last November 7th.]