Bangkok's anti-flood efforts hit by politics

national August 31, 2012 00:00

By Thanatpong Kongsai,

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Governor says release of water into canals risky; govt says drill necessary, safe

Officials’ comments about the upcoming water-drainage tests in Bangkok appear to confirm suspicions of a lack of coordination between the central government and the city administration.

To residents of the capital, this is a bad sign. Poor coordination, after all, was clearly one reason that the 2011 flooding spiralled into a full-blown crisis. Despite last year’s problems, the Democrat-led Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) and the Pheu Thai-led government have still failed to step over the political line and forge closer cooperation. 
Both sides are talking about different aspects of the drainage tests, which are scheduled to take place between September 5 and 7. They have also presented different information.
Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra yesterday said the government-appointed Water and Flood Management Committee (WFMC) must take sole responsibility for any fallout from the tests. 
“If there is any fallout, I told officials to listen to me only. Although our water-management officials are well prepared, there could be an accident,” he said. According to Sukhumbhand, some water will be released in Bangkok’s western zone via the Mahasawas and Bangkok Noi canals  next Wednesday. On  the following Friday, more water will be released into Bangkok’s western zone, which may also enter the capital’s inner zone. 
Sukhumbhand complained that heavy rain hit Bangkok every September, and the possibility of rain over the capital between September 5 and 7 was now 60 per cent.
“A storm now in the Philippines will likely reach Thailand around that period,” the city governor said. Deputy Bangkok Governor Thirachon Manomaipiboon, meanwhile, said he was worried that the test period would also coincide with a high tide.
Dr Royol Chitradon, who sits on the WFMC, said the tests had been planned since early August to check the drainage system and the mathematical models on which it is based. 
“Only after we conduct the actual tests will we know whether any obstacles still exist. If there are [obstacles], the test will identify them and we can plan further improvements,” he said. 
Royol said the latest weather forecasts suggested that rain would be concentrated in China, Myanmar and Laos between September 5 and 7, not Bangkok. “We will keep the water amount at just one-third of the affected canals’ total capacity,” he said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra also sought to allay fears of floods from the drainage tests, saying they would be called off immediately if there were an imminent threat. 
WFMC chairman and Science Minister Plodprasob Surassawadee sad the tests were not conducted to find fault with any authority, dismissing speculation that the BMA might have been targeted for a political reason. Sukhumbhand is a leading member of the Democrat Party, which is now on the opposition bench. 
His term will expire soon and the country’s two main political parties, Democrat and Pheu Thai, look set to compete in a fiercely fought gubernatorial election, to be held next year.
Plodprasob said the government had provided funds to repair many watergates and pump stations, as well as to improve the drainage system.
“According to the schedule, everything in the capital should be completed by [today],” he said. “If the work is not finished on time, someone must be held responsible.”
Plodprasob dismissed criticism that the use of a large amount of water in the upcoming drainage tests was wasteful given that large parts of the country are suffering from drought. He said the water to be used for the tests would come from downstream of the Chai Nat dam and had been reserved especially for this purpose.
He said the tests did not use water from the country’s largest dams – Sirikit and Bhumibol – which have reported rather low water levels.

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