ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
10 p.m.-Bangkok time
Note: This is our last flood update for 21 October 2011. We will begin our coverage at 6 a.m., Bangkok time, on Saturday, 22 October 2011.
New York Times
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Friday she would take direct command of flood control in Thailand as Bangkok opened its floodgates after the government abandoned its attempts to protect the capital from flooding.
She said she would strictly enforce a natural disaster law, which stops short of declaring a state of emergency, at a time when she has come under criticism for the disorganization and seeming uncertainty of her command.
Ms. Yingluck said the government’s priority now was to speed the flow of runoff through seven districts of eastern Bangkok into the Gulf of Thailand after battling for days to divert it from the capital.
She said the formal structure of what is called the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act was needed because some officials had disobeyed her instructions, hampering overall flood control.
“For example, I ordered the opening of water gates and was told that all were open, but when we checked on the ground, it was a different story altogether,” she said. “So we will need to issue a written order to be sure everything is clear.”
Even as the sprawling city waited to learn how hard it would be hit, assessments had already begun of the nationwide economic toll, with water now flooding one-third of Thailand’s provinces and turning the central plains north of Bangkok into what looked like giant lakes.
The floods have claimed more than 300 lives since heavy rains began in July and have forced some 14,000 companies employing more than 600,000 workers to shut down.
Seven major industrial estates have been inundated by as much as 3 meters, or 10 feet, of water, and the Irrigation Department has estimated that it will take about 40 days for the 12 billion cubic meters of floodwater to drain into the Gulf of Thailand.
Estimates of overall flood damage have risen to $6 billion and could be much higher if Bangkok is seriously flooded. Prasarn Trairatvorakul, governor of the Bank of Thailand, said economic growth this year could be cut to 3.1 percent from a previous projection of 4.1 percent.
“I am very much concerned that the flood problem will affect the confidence of foreign investors, who might move their production from Thailand to other countries,” Mr. Prasarn said.
“If the government can prove itself, foreign investors will not move production bases out of Thailand.”
Like the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March with much more sudden force, Thailand’s floods have already brought steep costs not only to its own economy but to foreign investors and export markets, principally Japan, which have placed heavy bets on economic ties with Thailand.
Thailand is a leading exporter of hard disk drives for computers, and the floods were expected to cause a temporary worldwide shortage. Its automotive industry, the biggest in the region with an annual capacity of almost 2 million cars, is one of the hardest hit industries.
Both Honda and Toyota are reported to have temporarily halted production because of the floods.
A shutdown of plants making auto parts is likely to have a short-term effect on the regional and global supply.
Factories in Thailand also produce such things as cameras, headphones, inkjet printers, compressors for refrigerators, memory chips and computer microprocessors.
But eventually most factories will reopen, analysts said, insurance will pick up much of the cost and manufacturing and trade will resume.
The harshest long-term toll of the floods, they said, would be to Thailand’s reputation as a stable and reliable home for foreign investors.
In a survey released this past week, the World Bank ranked Thailand as the world’s 17th most attractive country in which to do business, out of 183. The annual survey assesses factors like electricity supply, access to credit, investor protection, contract enforcement and trading across borders.
“The real loss of the flooding is the loss of complete credibility of the Thai state in managing the kind of disaster that has occurred,” said Ammar Siamwalla, a prominent economist in Thailand who specializes in development issues.
“You must remember that this is a disaster in slow motion,” he said. “It has been accumulating little by little until it reaches Bangkok. It demonstrates a complete lack of infrastructure to handle the floods, which are really a normal occurrence.”
The problems are well known, he said. Low-lying flood plains that have historically absorbed Thailand’s annual flooding have become an industrial region, with giant estates and other construction blocking natural flows.
With each new investment, the makings of a disaster took shape, and when historically heavy rains came this year, there was nowhere for the water to go, diverted here and there by irrigation canals without an outlet.
And when, predictably, the backed-up water surged south toward the capital, the government seemed to be unprepared and even taken by surprise.
“So foreign investment in Thailand will take a beating, I believe, in the long term,” Mr. Siamwalla said.
To salvage its reputation, the government will have to spend heavily on a system of canals and pumps and put in place an efficient flood control system.
“People can put up with natural disasters,” he said. “But they can’t put up with mismanagement of natural disasters.”
The BMA governor, MR Sukhumphan, revealed that floodwaters from the northern Thailand have arrived in Bangkok.
He noted that the water level at Khong 2 rose 4 centimeters even though BMA raised the water gate from 1.2 meters to 1.4 meters but this could not stabilize the water level.
Another warning sign is that Phaholyothin Road under the Highways Department's responsibility saw rising water up about 15 centimeters.
The Metropolitan Electricity Authority assures the public that even if floodwaters reach Rangsit, the authority can continue to provide electricity to the area as the flood would not adversely affect Rangsit's high voltage substation.
Phranai Suwanrat, Froc deputy director and Interior Ministry's permanent secretary, revealed that water levels in major dams are still at critical level.
Bhumibhol dam level is about 99 percent, Sirikit 99 percent, Khaew Noi 100 percent, Pasak 138 percent. These dams have to release water continuously.
However, a high pressure system originating in China is bringing cool weather to Thailand, causing less rainfall.
The new Thai government should review, or scrap, some of its populist policies and divert the money for them to help people and businesses affected by the devastating flood, prominent economists said on Friday.
Niphon Poapongsakorn, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI), said the flood has had a severe socio-economic impact on the country and the government should urgently prioritise reconstruction measures.
Building temporary flood walls to block the huge flood entering Bangkok, the country's economic hub, was not enough.
What the government should do was to map out long-term flood prevention measures and rehabilitate the people and businesses affected by the flooding, he said.
He called on the government to review its policies such as the 300-baht daily minimum wage, tax refunds for first-time car and home buyers and the rice mortgage program.
''It's time for the government to rethink its populist policies and give top priority to salvaging the country's economy.
"Go and to tell the public now that the government won't break its campaign promises, but it's necessary for it to divert money (from populist schemes) to help people hit by the flooding and to implement flood prevention measures that require a huge budget and long-term investment plans,'' the prominent economist said.
Somchai Jitsuchon, a research director at TDRI, said the flood impact assessment on the economy was limited for the time being as the crisis was continuing and there were more industrial estates on the eastern side of Bangkok that were at risk of flooding.
If floods were prolonged for over one month, there would be huge economic losses and the economic rehabilitation process would take more time, he said.
Damage from the flooding was likely to cut his year's economic growth by 1-2 percentage points and affect the government's tax revenues.
''The government will have no choice but to seek loans to rehabilitate flood-hit people and businesses.
"Workers will be the most affected as they may lose their jobs. The wage hike policy should be scrapped now and other measures must be taken to keep these workers employed,'' said Mr Somchai.
The Thai Industries Sentiment Index (TISI) fell from 102.5 in August to 90.7 in September, a 26-month record low, the Federation of Thai Industries said on Friday.
FTI chairman Payungsak Chartsutthipol said factors had affected the confidence of manufacturers as the widespread flooding had inundated major economic zones including industrial estates and transportation networks, the ongoing global economic crisis and rising production costs.
The industry sector’s confidence for the next three months stood at 94.0, down from 110.0 in August, because manufacturers believed hat total orders and sales volume, and production output, would go down.
Manufacturers suggested that the government should gradually raise the daily minimum wage to 300 baht instead of increasing it next April as planned, implement measures to minimiZe the impact of flooding on small and medium enterprises, find funding sources for them, settle the labor shortage problem and develop the logistics system to reduce transportation costs.
People in southern Thailand are facing consumer goods shortages because of the increasing demand for goods for flood-hit areas to their north, reports said on Friday.
The intense flooding from the north into the Central Plains, and now Bangkok, has prompted many people to hoard goods.
To add to their problems, authorities have warned some provinces in the South to brace for flash floods and forest run-off this month from heavy rain.
Shortages of drinking water and other consumer products have been reported in many markets in the South.
Shopping malls in Songkhla's Hat Yai district have to put up "out of stock" signs and apologise to their customers, the reports said.
Bangkradi industrial estate in Pathum Thani was totally flooded today, with the water reported to be about two metres deep.
A large number of management staff and workers were stranded in their factories and an operation was underway to get them out.
It is the seventh industrial site to be inundated by floodwaters.
A total of 116 schools in nine Bangkok districts at flood risk will open the next two weeks after the normal schedule for new semester on November 1, Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said Friday.
Extra classes will be provided on the weekend to make up for those missed during the 15-day period, he added.
Japan has given a large number of relief supplies including 240 mobile toilet units to Thailand.
Speaking at a hand-over ceremony, Japanese ambassador Seiji Kojkma repeated an insistence that Honda was considering relocation from Thailand after a large plant in Ayutthaya had been flooded.
Also donated are 200 boat engines and 450 life vests handed over, to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the ceremony, apart from Bt12 million in cash earlier.
Alternate routes are advised for holiday-makers heading out of Bangkok to substitute flooded roads, Highways Police commander Norrabun Naenna suggested Friday.
Motorists heading north may use routes passing Nakhon Pathom, Ang Thong and Suphan Buri, or Route 11 through Prachin Buri. For northeast-bound motorists, they may head to Rangsit and take right turn into Ban Na district in Nakhon Nayok, then to Saraburi, or drive through Chachoengsao to Prachin Buri, then Pak Thong Chai district in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Key roads heading to the East and the South are not flooded. For more details please call 1193, Highways Police’s hotline.
The Indian government has provided US$200,000 in aid to the Thai government to help with flood relief, the Indian embassy announced.
A press statement from the embassy said the government and people of India express their solidarity with the government and people of Thailand in this difficult period of severe floods across central Thailand.
The statement said India's External Affairs S. M. Krishna had earlier conveyed deep condolences to his Thai counterpart on the loss of life and damage to property and agriculture in Thailand.
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