November 09, 2011 00:00
By Graham Catterwell
When a General's fighting a losing battle, it's maybe best for him not to say out loud that defeat is inevitable.
There are also many Generals claiming and disclaiming command with the changing tides of good and bad news.
There are also many “experts” providing at least as many prognoses.
In short, it is hard to get a clear picture.
Here’s my own view, gleaned from monitoring what sources of hard facts I have been able to muster.
A city-wide deluge is inevitable
After floodwaters entered Bangkok from the North and the Northeast, inflows were stemmed by building the “big bag wall” (so named for its 2.5 MT sandbags, instead of the usual 50 kg ones) and then rebuilding the impaired sluice gate at Khlong Samwa.
Since then, despite maximum pumping efforts, water levels in the initially-flooded areas have risen or at best stabilized. Meanwhile, floodwaters have spread out to extensive new areas. Drainage canal levels have all been steadily rising. All this can only mean that there continues to be a substantial net inflow of water into Bangkok.
Parts of central Eastern Bangkok -- notably (in sequence) Bangkapi, Ramkahhaeng Road, Srinakharin Road, and Phetburi Road -- look sure to be under water by early next week. After Phetburi Road goes under, it will not take long for these waters to flow to Sukhumvit and the rest of downtown Bangkok. Once in downtown Bangkok, this water will await that already steadily flowing down from North and due to pass Victory Monument shortly.
An extended period of high tides begins tomorrow and continues for just over a week. This will not only affect the rate at which water can be pumped out, but bring in additional water as river and then canal banks overflow.
Just as this stage of the flood is becoming entrenched by the end of next week, floodwaters building up behind the “big bag wall” will begin to pour over the top, bringing a second stronger and unstoppable stage to the flood.
No need to analyse the surrounding provinces, as those parts that are not yet under water obviously soon will be.
It is hard to say how deep flooding levels will go. My best guess is that the first wave will take all areas to 30-150 cm (depending on contours), and that the second and larger wave will at least double this.
It’s going to be at least another 2-3 weeks before Bangkok floodwaters peak. It’s anybody’s guess as to how long it will take for this water to flow (mainly) or be pumped (partially) out, but to say 2-3 weeks from the flood peak would probably be over optimistic. It’ll be at very least another month before Bangkok is relatively dry, and then it will take some time to clean up.
It’s too early to assess, but -- with the country’s economic heart stopped, a large number of factors out of action, and a severe disruption to logistics – the economic cost must be high.
Those supermarkets still open show many empty shelves. Bottled water is hard to find and then expensive. Tap water supplies are still good in many areas, but can’t but become tainted as more and more sewers overflow. Garbage collection is not feasible in floodwater deeper than about 50-60 cm. Electricity gets cut off in a zone when water approaches the lowest meter attached to a pole within that zone. For this with toilets that still work, the sewage joins the floodwater; those with toilets that no longer work have to innovate. Telephones work, but become unreliable as the roadside junction boxes flood.
Access to medical attention and drugs is limited.
Large army trucks can plow through a certain depth of floodwater, but a good number have already succumbed. Both the Navy and the Army are able to assist with boats, but resources are already stretched before the worst has come.
Life is not easy, and not going to get easier in the coming weeks.
The aggregate bodyweight of Bangkokians is likely to show a significant decline, if anybody’s measuring.