No red, yellow conflict at Don Mueang

national October 14, 2011 00:00

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
The Nation

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The volunteer spirit is strong out there at Don Mueang Airport's Domestic Terminal, which has been turned into a flood relief centre by both the government and civic groups - but poor coordination continued as of yesterday, nearly a week after the centre



The number of cars parked in front of the airport reflects the buzz of chaotic activity and people from various walks volunteering to do whatever they can to alleviate the hardship faced by hundreds-of-thousands of people in Ayutthaya, Nakhon Sawan and elsewhere.

Some formed a line to relay heavy packs of drinking water, others stuffed clothes into separate bags. Fresh food was being prepared for both those who need assistance and the hundreds of volunteers. Even a few Western volunteers have been spotted.

 Besides their wide-ranging age and background, people of differing political opinions managed to set up operations side by side.

 Thitima Meepan, special project coordinator at Kapook.com, a popular on-line magazine, is busy overseeing the dissemination of flood-related information through Facebook and Twitter account @thaiflood.

 People at Kapook are regarded as “multi-coloured shirts”, and definitely not fans of pro-government red shirts. Asked if the shirt colour matters at the moment, she replied: “We’re all here to help, as problems kept coming.”

A sign of poor coordination soon became apparent. Chayika Wongna- phachan, staff member at the Prime Minister’s Office secretariat, rushed over to ask Thitima what items were needed most at this stage, and how many, so the government could come up with a purchase list. Thitima was caught off guard and said she would need a day or two to offer an answer.

Kapook needs more volunteers, she told The Nation, and those with foreign-language abilities who can speak Thai would be an asset. The operation currently has about 20 volunteers, mostly university students.

There has been some coordination at Kapook with the next-door Mirror Foundation, of which Red Sunday Group leader Sombat Boon-ngam-anong is president. Sombat told this writer a day earlier that more Bangkokians should come out to help upcountry folks, otherwise the flood barriers could be destroyed by disgruntled residents affected by the flooding. The Mirror Foundation has more volunteers, with dozens busy making ad-hoc lifesavers by tying a dozen or so empty plastic water bottles to help people keep afloat on water.

 “We no longer distinguish [shirt] colours,” said Prawit Suksomboon, a 42-year-old volunteer. Her female colleagues beg to differ, however, saying a yellow-shirt group downstairs had refused to help fix a set of lifesavers simply because it was tied with red ropes.

 Prawit agreed – but added the focus is now not on political division, but doing whatever they can to help.

 Pichate Yingkiattikun, project manager at Siam Intelligence Unit, a think tank, and another volunteer at the Mirror Foundation complained that while volunteers try to do what they can, he earlier spotted a man protesting outside against the government.

 “Well, at least we should emerge with a slightly better understanding of one another,” Pichate said, of the politics of coloured shirts.

 Just a stone’s throw away, one of Thailand’s flood experts had just finished his press conference. Asst Prof Sombat Yumuang, director of the Geo-Informatics Centre for Thailand (GISTHAI) at Chulalongkorn University’s Department of Geology, was enlisted by the Yingluck Shinawatra government on Wednesday.

Sombat told The Nation after a press conference that there’s no point talking about what the government could have done to save Ayutthaya two weeks earlier. Hundreds of factories now lie submerged and hundred of thousands of workers are without work.

Armed with a satellite image of the floodwater on the central plain, he claimed the government would now deal with the flood in a “scientific way”.

“You cannot use the word, ‘miscalculated’,” he said, in reference to the damage that has already been incurred with the flood impact on Ayutthaya.

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