In the autumn of 2011 Thailand was slammed by the worst flooding in almost 70 years. Massive floods, which began in September and continued through December, inundated large areas of central Thailand, directly affecting 2 million people. More than 800 people were killed and 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres) of agricultural, industrial and residential lands were devastated. Many of the country’s industrial estates, which export electronic parts, auto parts and hard disk drives, were swamped, as were large parts of Bangkok. By some estimates the floods caused 1.3 trillion baht ($42 billion) of damage and affected a fifth of Thailand’s 64 million people. Floodwaters drenched a third of Thailand’s provinces. More than 110,000 were displaced and 720,000 sought medical attention. Most of the dead drowned. There were no serious outbreaks of disease.

Todd Pitman of Associated Press wrote: “Floodwaters born from months of intense monsoon rains swept the country, engulfing whole cities in one of the worst natural disasters in modern Thai history. In the last few weeks, areas of outer Bangkok have also been submerged, forcing residents to flee neighborhoods where the best way to get around now is on boats made from anything that can float — plastic foam, empty water bottles, bamboo poles. [Source: Todd Pitman, Associated Press, November 10, 2011]

The flooding was due primarily to torrential rain during Thailand's rainy season from June to August. The precipitation was 1.4 to 1.8 times greater than normal years. The floods in September first inundated Ayutthaya and then advanced southward several kilometers a day, eventually reaching the northern and western parts of Bangkok. Although the flooding began to subside in December, a few areas, including parts of Bangkok, were still under water at the end of the year.

The flooding began in late July after Thailand was hammered by a series of tropical storms. Altogether nine major storms hit the country. Floodwaters ravaged the central plains of Thailand, inundating some provinces to the north of Bangkok for more than a month. The water crept from the central plains south toward the Gulf of Thailand, with Bangkok in its way, literally surrounding the capital with mammoth pools of water that were drained to the sea through the city via a complex network of canals and rivers. The 2011 floods were less severe than the floods in 1943. The volume of water released in 2011 was about the same as the 1995 floods.

The World Bank estimated the damage from the flood to be around $45 billion as of early December 2011. Most of the damage was to the manufacturing industry, as seven major industrial estates were inundated by as much three meters (almost 10 feet) of water during the floods. Disruptions to manufacturing supply chains affected regional automobile production and caused a global shortage of hard disk drives, which lasted well into 2012. By some estimates the Thai floods were the world’s fourth costliest disaster after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, 1995 Kobe earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Origins of the 2011 Floods in Thailand

Major flooding began in late July after Tropical Storm Nockten made landfall in Northern Vietnam, causing heavy precipitation in Northern and Northeastern Thailand and flash flooding in many provinces. Within one week thirteen had been reported dead, with ongoing flooding in the provinces in northern and northeastern Thailand. In August heavier rains than usual occurred as result of the effect of La Niña. Floodwaters reached half a meter in downtown Nan in Phitsanulok Province, the highest recorded there since 1995. In the meantime large areas in the downstream provinces of Nakhon Sawan, Ang Thong, Ayutthaya and Nakhon Nayok in the central plains were increasingly being affected. The Bhumibol and Sirikit Dams were increasing discharge rates to compensate for incoming flow. On August 22, the death toll stood at 37. [Source: Wikipedia]

By mid September almost all lower central provinces— Uthai Thani, Chai Nat, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Suphan Buri, Ayutthaya,Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi—were being affected by flooding. Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi are situated on the northern border of Bangkok. Broken floodgates resulted in water from the Chao Phraya flowing through irrigation canals and inundating large areas of paddy fields in Singburi, Ang Thong and Ayutthaya, but lessening the strain on Bangkok as the fields served as water retention areas. Boats were employed to run against the river flow while anchored in an attempt to increase the river's discharge rate.

By early October, most dams were already near- or over-capacity and being forced to increase their rates of discharge, potentially worsening downstream flooding. Flooding in Ayutthaya worsened as flood water entered the city proper, inundating the Ayutthaya Historical Park and forcing evacuations. Barriers protecting industrial estates failed, resulting in flooding of dozens of major factories and disrupting country-wide, manufacturing supply chains. In Nakhon Sawan, the sandbag barrier protecting the city was breached, resulting in rapid flooding of the city. Hundreds of patients had to be transferred out of Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan Regional Hospitals by boat as water levels rose over the hospital floors and power supplies and life support systems were disrupted.

The drama of the flooding around the Bangkok area and its financial costs captured most of the headlines. However, significant flooding occurred in late 2011 in Thailand's southern provinces. Nine provinces were being affected by flash flooding owing to rains that occurred in November 2011. Saba Yoi, Khuan Niang, Rattaphum and Singha Nakhon districts were declared disaster zones after flood waters as high as five meters covered many areas. More than 159 roads were impassable. Ten other districts were feared affected. Southern coastal areas experienced high waves.

2011 Floods Flood Strike Central Thailand

The 2011 floods submerged land in about one third of Thailand , leaving entire towns under water more than two meters high. In many cases the water slowly came in and rose and took weeks, even months, to subside and drain away. In mid October 2011, AFP reported: “Thailand's worst floods in decades have inundated huge swathes of the kingdom, swallowing homes and businesses, shutting down industry, and forcing tens of thousands of people to seek refuge in shelters. Authorities are battling to protect the capital which is ringed by defensive walls that have so far largely prevented major flooding. But their efforts have left areas outside the city to bear the brunt of the rising waters. [Source: AFP, October 16, 2011/]

“From the edge of the capital a vast flood plain stretches north for some 200 kilometres (124 miles), with the ancient city of Ayutthaya and surrounding areas critically waterlogged. An AFP photographer travelling in a Thai army relief helicopter said the only land visible in some areas are overpasses packed with vehicles and people desperate to reach higher ground. "It was a sea, with only tree tops and the roofs of houses visible above the water," he said. /\

“People have swapped their cars for boats and improvised rafts and locals in one isolated village swam from their homes to collect air-dropped rations. In an attempt to speed the flow through waterways towards the Gulf of Thailand, authorities organised around a thousand boats to line up with engines running on the Chao Phraya, Bang Pa Kong and Tha Chin rivers. Yingluck, speaking from the banks of the Chao Phraya in Nonthaburi province, north of Bangkok, said the boats' propellers would move only a relatively small amount of water but that the measure was still "worthwhile and efficient". /\

“Sandbags have been piled alongside waterways and authorities have been dredging and draining canals to allow more water to flow through. The floods, several metres deep in places, are currently affecting about one third of Thailand's provinces. The United States sent a military transport aircraft from Japan carrying thousands of sandbags and 10 US Marines to assess the situation, the US embassy said. The floods have dealt a heavy blow to Thailand's economy, disrupting production of cars, electronics and other goods. Japanese automakers including Toyota have suspended production in the kingdom due to water damage to facilities or a shortage of components. A fourth major industrial estate has been inundated in Ayutthaya after the floodwalls were breached, prompting an evacuation of employees. /\

Waters from 2011 Floods in Thailand Drain Through Bangkok

In late October and early November, polluted brown black water from the north coursed through parts of Bangkok while kilometers of sandbag walls were set up and other measures were taken to protect key parts of the city. AP reported: “Floodwaters from Thailand's flood-ravaged central heartland pushed farther into Bangkok, as residents of long-submerged provinces north of the capital started to rebuild their lives. The water slowly advancing through Bangkok's northern and western neighborhoods is threatening the city's subway system, two key industrial estates and the emergency headquarters set up to deal with the flooding.[Source: Associated Press, November 7, 2011 =]

“Evacuations have been ordered in 12 of Bangkok's 50 districts. The evacuations, which also effect parts of several other districts, are not mandatory, and many people are staying to protect homes and businesses. But the orders illustrate how far flooding has progressed into the city and how powerless the government has been to stop it. Floodwaters in the city continued to flow south toward the still-unaffected central business district. In Chatuchak, a few kilometers north of there, water was nearly knee deep around Mo Chit Skytrain station, the northernmost stop on the capital's elevated train system. =

“Water was also rising near three subway stops in the same area. Both mass transit networks are functioning normally, though some exits have been barricaded and closed. Chatuchak is home to the government's national flood relief headquarters, which is housed in the Energy Ministry — a building now surrounded by water. The relief headquarters moved last week out of Bangkok's Don Muang airport after it, too, was flooded. The city's main airport remains open. Also in Chatuchak, water has begun approaching a main road near the Mo Chit bus terminal, a major gateway to northern Thailand. =

Reuters reported: “Water is also approaching central Bangkok from the northern Don Muang district where the city’s domestic airport has been flooded and where one resident said the water had risen 5cm in his house on Wednesday. City deputy governor Theerachon Manomaipaiboon said workers were building a wall of giant sandbags to try to stop the flow towards the city centre from the north. The wall is expected to be finished in three days but the flood is difficult to predict as it makes its way through the city’s suburbs and a poorly maintained and often partly built-over network of canals and tunnels. “We have a very complicated system. Water in one area can appear 20km away,” Theerachon told Reuters. [Source: Reuters, November 2, 2011]

Bangkok’s dike for the most part held firm and the city’s network of canals and tunnels funneled water, allwoing it it to slowly drain towards the sea. Most of Bangkok remained dry and most of its more than nine million residents were staying put rather than evacuating to protect their homes. Still, fears the inner city could flood has fuelled an exodus, as Thais and expatriates alike sought refuge outside Bangkok and foreign governments urged their citizens to avoid unessential travel to the threatened city. [Source: Reuters, October 28, 2011]

Flooding Around the Grand Palace in Bangkok

In early November 2011, Reuters reported: “Thonburi, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, opposite central Bangkok’s glittering Grand Palace and Chinatown, is mostly swamped with water chest-deep in places. It could be flooded for weeks, experts say. To the north, Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya provinces have been largely inundated for weeks along with seven industrial estates that have sprung up over recent decades on what used to be the central plain’s rice fields. [Source: Reuters, November 2, 2011]

A few days earlier Reuters reported: “The main river coursing through Thailand's capital swelled to record highs today amid fears that flood defences could break and swamp the heart of the city. Ankle-high water from the Chao Phraya river spilled through one sandbagged entranceway of Bangkok's treasured Grand Palace, which once housed the kingdom's monarchy.The army was pumping out the water, and tourists were still entering the white-walled compound. [Source: Reuters, October 28, 2011~]

“The river has filled roads outside the palace gates for days, but the water has receded with the tides, leaving streets dry again. But the higher than normal tides in the Gulf of Thailand, expected to peak tomorrow, are obstructing the flood runoff from the north, and there are fears that the overflows could swamp parts of the city centre.The government also is worried major barriers could break.~

“This morning's high tide passed without a major breach, but the waters briefly touched riverside areas closer to the city's central businesses districts of Silom and Sathorn. "It is clear that although the high tides haven't reached 2.5 meters, it was high enough to prolong the suffering of those living outside of the flood walls and to threaten those living behind deteriorating walls," Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra said. Seven districts— all in the northern outskirts — are heavily flooded, and residents have fled aboard bamboo rafts and army trucks and by wading in waist-deep water. Another eight districts have seen less serious flooding. Fresh flooding was reported today in the city's south-east when a canal overflowed in a neighbourhood on the outer parts of Sukhumvit Road. ~

Flooding When Peak Tides Hit Bangkok

When peak tides along the Gulf of Thailand crested, waters of the Chao Phraya River reached a maximum height of 2.47 meters above sea level—just below the top of the 2.5 meter concrete flood walls and earthen dikes protecting much of Bangkok’s inner city. Reuters reported: “Peak tides tested Bangkok's flood defenses on Sunday as hope rose that the center of the Thai capital might escape the worst floods in decades, but that was little comfort for swamped suburbs and provinces where worry about disease is growing. Water flowing down the central Chao Phraya river basin from the north is meeting peak tides surging in the Gulf of Thailand, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Bangkok, leading to fears the city's makeshift defenses would be swamped. [Source: Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Robert Birsel, Reuters, October 30, 2011^]

“The tides have pushed water in the river, which snakes its way through the city past gilded temples and wooden shanties, about 2.5 meters (8 feet) above sea level but dikes and sandbag walls have largely held. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters: "It depends on the level of the sea and sometimes it's about the stability of the way we put the sandbags. Hopefully, the sandbags are quite strong enough. So if the sandbags don't fall over, it should be OK." The high tides are due to last until Monday. Sunday's tide was not quite as high as Saturday's, Yingluck said, adding that people should not lose confidence: "We will recover soon." ^

“Authorities trying to divert water around the city and out to sea said a "great volume" was flowing from the north into a canal in western Taling Chan district and people were being advised to leave. Most people living in Thonburi, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, have been struggling in waist-deep water for several days to save possessions. People in Thonburi's Bang Phlad neighborhood battled in vain to shore up a crumbling sandbag wall and women screamed as water from the swollen river surged into a commercial street. ^

“Several parts of north Bangkok are also swamped while provinces just north, such as Pathun Thani and Ayutthaya, have been largely inundated for weeks. Fears about water-borne diseases and malaria are growing. Matthew Cochrane of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the situation was critical. Many people were living in floodwater without access to food and water. As well as the growing risk of diarrhea and mosquito-borne diseases, skin infections were a major problem, he said. In some areas, crocodiles have escaped from flooded farms and snakes searching for dry land have slithered into homes. ^

“Numerous buildings have been sandbagged or walled off. Many people left their cars on elevated roads, although most of the inner city is dry. Many residents have taken advantage of a special five-day holiday to Monday to flee the city. Those left behind have stocked up and supplies of staples in many shops have run out.Some governments have warned citizens against non-essential travel to the city of 12 million and some flights have been canceled, although the main airport has not been flooded. ^

Efforts to Contain and Control Waters from the Thai Floods in 2011

The floods shut down Don Muang Airport for four months. The airport is located in a part of the Bangkok suburbs that was submerged by as much as two meters of water. Flooding came close to disrupting air traffic at Suvarnabhumi Airport too. Floodgates on canals were opened to newly-built canals and dikes were raised as part the effort to divert and drain the floodwaters. As the waters approached Bangkok, the Thai government ordered a five-day holiday to allow people to evacuate the city. Many people ignored the warning and hunkered down in their homes, in some cases making walls from sandbags, even concrete blocks, and moving vehicles and belongings to higher ground.

In mid October 2011, AP reported: “Soldiers, public works crews and volunteers raced to repair a key barrier protecting Bangkok’s northern suburbs from approaching waters today. The efforts were part of a desperate bid to defend Thailand’s capital from the country’s worst floods in decades. Repair work to the Khlong Ban Phrao Floodgate was being speeded up and area residents were asked to remain on alert for flooding. Governor Peerasak Hinmuangkao of Pathum Thani province, just north of Bangkok, said the gate would be repaired by the end of the day. [Source: AP, October 14, 2011 *]

“Erroneous reports had said floodwaters had broken through the gate, leading the government to order residents to evacuate urgently. The Flood Relief Centre later apologised for the “misinformation”, saying the evacuation order had been reversed and that damage to the gate had been overestimated. Buildings in many areas of the capital have stockpiled sandbags, while others have built protective walls from cement and cinderblocks. *

“Government spokesman Wim Rungwattanajinda said the main canals east and west of Bangkok would be dredged by today to allow more water to flow from flooded northern provinces. He said authorities were also digging canal shortcuts to help drive water to the sea. “This is the best method at the moment” to protect Bangkok, Mr Wim said. “We are all working against time.” Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the operations would allow the water to exit through three major rivers instead of just one – the Chao Phraya River which flows through Bangkok – as the government initially planned, and would therefore relieve the impact on the capital. *

People Affected by Thai Floods in 2011

For more than months some people were was forced to live on the second floor of their homes in Nakorn Sawan province as floodwaters filled the bottom floor. The Bangkok area wasn’t immune either. “The water that came in our neighbourhood was massive and had immense power,” 29-year-old Yibporn Ratanawit, who lives in Thonburi on the Chao Phraya’s western bank, told AP. “As we were stepping out of our gate to evacuate, one of our walls totally collapsed to the neighbour’s side and the water rushed into their house. It was like a nightmare. I think the Thonburi side will all be gone eventually because the water has not stopped rising,” she said.

AP reported: “Samroeng Verravanich wades through the rancid brown water in one of Bangkok's many flooded streets. The garbageman plunges a white-gloved hand into the filth, fishes out a slimy plastic bag and slings it into the red basket he's towing. "If you have cuts, it can create infections between your fingers," Samroeng says of the dirty water, holding out a dripping hand peppered with a red rash. "My hands got infected. It hurts and it spreads too -- like a virus." [Source: AP, November 3, 2011**]

“On the same street where Samroeng and a colleague cleared rubbish in the northwestern Bangkok district of Bang Plad, 9-year-old Paradorn Junsamlee practiced swimming behind his mom. He smiled and plopped his chubby bottom down on the pavement with a splash, saying he had taken medicine to protect against disease in the floodwaters. "I'm worried about him getting sick, but you can't stop him," says mother Nantana Junsamlee, a soaked T-shirt and shorts sucked against her skin. "I tell him, 'Every time you swim, you have to avoid getting water in your eyes and mouth."' **

“At a Buddhist temple down a nearby side street, dozens of stranded flood victims waited for a doctor to arrive by boat. One elderly woman says fast-rising waters forced her to flee without her diabetes medication. Another needed an injection for anemia. Outside, two other flood threats were visible — a 6-foot python held in a garbage can after it was caught near the shelter, and a fat 6-inch leech scorched on the temple's marble stairs by a cigarette lighter.” **

Water Shortages and Fears of Disease During the Floods of 2011

Reuters reported: “The flooding triggered panic buying that has emptied Bangkok's supermarkets of bottled water. With some highways submerged and major production plants shut down, drinking water is fast becoming a precious commodity. Supermarkets are racing to find new producers and import crates of bottled water because most plants supplying the city of 12 million people are located in central provinces, some of which are under two meters of water. "The water shortage right now is critical," said Patchara Rattakul, chief operating officer of Haad Thip Pcl, which distributes Thai Nam Thip water in Thailand.

“Supermarkets in the capital are rationing instant noodles, rice and eggs, but bottled water is nowhere to be seen, with crates of beer now filling swathes of empty shelf space. While tens of thousands of people have taken advantage of a special five-day holiday and fled the capital, others have been doing shuttle-runs in pickup trucks to stock up on bottled water from eastern towns like Pattaya and Chon Buri. Big C Supercenter Pcl, which has 37 stores in and around Bangkok, said it was working hard to bring stocks into the capital and had turned to small producers because only one major supplier, Thai Nam Thip, was operating. He said the firm was able to supply its stores across the country with 11,000 cases a day, or 112,000 liters, down from more than 30,000 cases prior to the crisis. "Demand has skyrocketed," a spokesman said. "As soon as supplies reach the stores, they're gone in minutes."

AP reported: “As Thailand's worst floods in more than half a century continue to creep into Bangkok, mixing with water bubbling up through drains and spilling over canals, many streets have become floating landfills. Plastic bags overflowing with waste and rotten food cling to boats, cars, motorbikes and people as they slowly snake through inundated roadways. Raw sewage and animal carcasses can be seen bobbing in waters ripe for disease. Flooding has contaminated water used by the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA) for the city's tap water. Some residents have complained about its odor and yellow color, while rumors have swirled there could be a shortage. "The government said the water is safe to drink. Personally I don't believe it," said Bangkok resident Petchara Sripetch. [Source: AP, November 3, 2011++]

“No major outbreaks have been reported since monster monsoon rains spawned floods that began swallowing areas north of the capital in late July. But experts warn the biggest health threats will likely emerge in the coming weeks after moving floodwaters subside, leaving stale pools. "There's a lot of danger around it," says Mark Thomas, a spokesman for UNICEF, which is assisting with sanitation issues. "You need to keep kids out of the water, and everybody should stay out of the water as much as possible." ++

“Mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, are a concern as well as eye infections and waterborne ailments that can lead to diarrhea and severe dehydration. Skin diseases and fungal infections are the flood's biggest plague so far, with nearly 100,000 cases of athlete's foot reported. Bouts of diarrhea and respiratory infections are also common, especially with many flood victims sheltering in hot, cramped sites that may not have electricity or clean water. ++

Floodgate Rivalry as a Symbol of Bangkok Versus the Rest of Thailand

According to The Nation: “The floods have created further social conflict among the people. Those who live within the flooded part of the dyke barriers, or "big bags", fight against the authorities and those who live outside them, because they want the water to flow out of their communities. They are opening up the water gates and removing the barriers. This community conflict has created ugly scenes that shock and awe all of us. [Source: Thanong Khanthong, The Nation, November 25, 2011]

Reuters reported: “Inner Bangkok, protected by a network of dikes and sandbag walls, survived peak tides at the weekend and is mostly dry. But huge amounts of water are bottled up to the north, west and east of the city and new areas are being flooded daily as the water tries to find its way out to sea to the south. Anger is seething in flooded communities on the wrong side of inner Bangkok’s flood barricades. [Source: Reuters, November 2, 2011\/]

“Residents of the north eastern Bangkok suburb of Sam Wa took matters into their own hands this week and hacked away at the side of a canal flood gate, aiming to let the water flow out of their area towards the city centre. Yingluck ordered the gate opened in the face of the residents’ demands. The Bangkok government objected on the grounds that the flow could endanger the city centre. But the city had to comply with Yingluck’s order to open the gate by a metre, leading to fear among inner city residents that the disaster they thought they had dodged was looming again. \/

“City officials and workers went to the Sam Wa flood gate to repair the damage and limit the amount of water flowing through. “We are here doing the repair work and the police are protecting us,” said city administration spokesperson Jate Sopitpongstorn. “They have to accept it,” he said of the neighbourhood’s residents. Several hundred police officers were on hand and there were no protests. City governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra, watching workers with heavy machinery fix the gate, down-played the political clash and said everyone had to cooperate. But, referring to the central government’s change of heart and order to open the gate, he said everyone should stick to decisions. \/

“The whole issue raised the larger question of how much effort should go into protecting Bangkok, especially when other places make sacrifices to do so, and this in turn signified the divisions between the country’s rural masses and the Bangkok elite. Bangkok’s 12 million people account for 41 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP) and neither the central government nor the city administration wants to be seen to be responsible for an inner city deluge. Both sides will claim victory if the centre can be saved. But misery in outlying areas, especially north and west Bangkok, and provinces to the north will take the gloss off any success in the inner city, especially given a perception those areas have been sacrificed to save the well-to-do city centre. “ \/

Government Handling of the Thai Floods in 2011 and Cleaning Up Afterwards

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra cancelled a trip to Hawaii for an APEC meeting that would have been her debut on the world stage, to contend with the crisis. But overall her government was criticized for failing to anticipate extent of the flooding and not taking enough preventative measures. There were accusations that authorities delayed releasing water from dams and they only did so when the dams were at risk of bursting. Residents were frustrated by widely differing assessments of the flooding situation from the prime minister, Bangkok's governor and the country's top water experts and officials.

Thanong Khanthong wrote in The Nation: “Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been held up to ridicule over her inexperience and her inept management of the country - not to mention her poor language and communication ability. Make no mistake, under her clumsy mismanagement and seemingly innocent drama over the past four months, Thais have been treated to a series of ‘shock and awe’ events. It sounds like a Hollywood movie. The damages caused by the 2011 floods could have been minimised or managed better. But the government allowed the floods to get out of control through a series of mishaps and mistakes. [Source: Thanong Khanthong, November 25, 2011==]

On the clean up after the flood, AP reported: “For two months, Anan Dirath was forced to live on the second floor of his home in Nakorn Sawan province. But now that the water has receded to knee level, it's time to clean up. The waters have started to recede in recent days, revealing the massive cleanup effort that lies ahead.He armed his two teenage children with mops, scrub brushes and garbage bags. Wading in the water, his family began scrubbing dirt off the walls and collecting the garbage around the house. He said the dirt was difficult to wash off and he has had to scrub the paint off to get rid of it. "Oh my pretty home. It used to be a pretty two-storey home," he said. In nearby Nakorn Sawan town center, where the water has dried completely, the government sponsored a cleanup day last week when roads were scrubbed down to get rid of the oily mud left from the floods. Backhoes were used to carry garbage away. The cleanup also has begun in some parts of Thailand's ancient capital of Ayutthaya. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is to visit the province Tuesday to witness recovery efforts. [Source: Associated Press, November 7, 2011]

Yingluck authorized 100 billion baht ($3.3 billion) for post-flood reconstruction. For the mid- and long-term the Thai government is considering such measures as revising water-control and management plans of major dams, restoring and improving existing dikes and water channels, and developing systems to prevent floods and issue flood warnings.

Global Warming and the Thai Floods in 2011

The floods that have inundated Thailand are a good example of how greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere may not "cause" extreme weather but they do raise the odds of it happening, just as a diet of fatty foods raises the odds of heart disease. Michael D. Lemonick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Since last summer, torrential rains have been pounding the Thai highlands, swelling the country's rivers, including the Chao Phraya, which flows through the capital. Many people have fled for drier ground, fearful that the city's dikes might not hold back the water — especially over the weekend, as the virtual tsunami from the north tried to empty into the Gulf of Thailand just as unusually high tides were pushing up the river. "It seems like we're fighting against the forces of nature," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told the New York Times last week. [Source: Michael D. Lemonick, Los Angeles Times, November 02, 2011++]

“But as experts in risk management have come to realize, it's not just nature that has put coastal cities like Bangkok in the cross hairs of catastrophe. Monsoons and floods have drenched Asia for thousands of years. But before cities like Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) arose, climate-related disasters affected relatively few people. Now, as the latest edition of the Climate Change and Environment Risk Atlas from Maplecroft, a London-based risk assessment firm, makes clear, swelling populations and shaky infrastructure, especially in poorer nations, put millions in harm's way. The very existence of mega-cities, then, is one risk factor for weather and climate disasters (the Bangkok metropolitan area holds nearly 15 million people) — it's the high blood pressure, you might say, of disaster. ++

“But climate change is an additional risk factor. Scientists have shown that torrential rains have gotten heavier in recent years, in large part because of human-caused global warming. This year's Southeast Asian monsoon may or may not have the fingerprints of climate change all over it, but in general, the trend toward heavier rains is likely to continue. Last weekend's high tide doesn't have anything to do with rising sea level; it was caused by an unusual alignment of Earth, moon and sun. But as climate change does raise sea levels over the coming century — by an average of 3 feet by 2100, according to the current best estimate — rain-swollen rivers will have a harder and harder time emptying quickly into the ocean. But wait, (as they say on infomercials) there's more! Another consequence of climate change is that hurricanes and typhoons may get more intense, fueled by warmer ocean waters. That means stronger storm surges will be pushing on higher seas and driving them farther inland — and as survivors of Hurricane Katrina know very well, it's not so much the winds and rain that get you; it's the surge. ++

Economic of Impact of the Thai Floods in 2011

The Thai economy was slammed hard by the autumn 2011 floods. Floodwaters swamped almost 1,000 of factories, including ones used by Apple, Sony, Honda and Toyota, and caused damage estimated at around $10 billion. Insurers paid out $20 billion in claims that also factored in the economic costs of the damage. Economic analysts said the floods may have cut Thailand's 2011 GDP projections by as much as two percentage points, which is more than the Thai economy was affected by the great December 2004 tsunami.

The president of South Korea's Samsung Electronics said Thailand's floods hit the computer memory chip market and hurt PC production into 2012. "There is too much uncertainty in the market," Jun Dong-soo, president of Samsung's memory business, said. Samsung is the world's top maker of dynamic random access memory, which is used widely in PCs. [Source: Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Robert Birsel, Reuters, October 30, 2011]

The floods swept into seven industrial complexes located north of Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River between Bangkok and the Ayutthaya area. The seven industrial complexes are (from Ayutthaya south to Bangkok): 1) Saha Rattana Nakom, with 46 plants; 2) Rojana, with 213 plants; 3) Hi-Tech, with 143 plants; 4) Bang Pa-in, with 90 plants; 5) Factory Land, with 84 plants; 6) Nava Nakorn, with 227 plants; and 7) Bankadi, with 36 plants.

The supply chains of parts for industrial products were disrupted, forcing factories in Thailand and neighboring countries to suspend production. Even automobile factories in Japan and North America were affected. On top of that the floods wiped out a quarter of Thailand’s main rice crop. Floodwaters submerged 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of agricultural land, an area roughly the size of Kuwait.

Thailand is Asia's most developed auto parts market and a hub for the likes of Toyota, Honda and Mercedes-Benz, making cars and car parts the country's No. 1 export in 2012. year. The floods disrupted more than 100 components makers.

Flooding of Industrial Area North of Bangkok

In mid October, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “All five key industrial zones were under water in the historic city of Ayutthaya, about a one-hour drive north of Bangkok. Many Japanese automobile and electronics manufacturers are located in the city. It has been impossible to enter the area without a boat, and many factories are completely submerged.” "Our plant was flooded nearly up to the first floor ceiling," an employee of a major Japanese auto parts maker said at a high-tech industrial complex that has been transformed into a huge muddy pond. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri, October 18, 2011]

“The employee said he tried to bring production equipment outside but gave up as he could not find a place to store it. "There is no chance of recovery," he said. It is expected to take several months before full operations resume, and companies are rushing to find alternate production facilities or supply routes for parts. Thailand, home to many parts makers, plays a critical role in the global supply chain. If disruptions are prolonged, it could upset manufacturers worldwide, according to Merrill Lynch Japan Securities Co. A senior official of a major Japanese automaker said the floods are having similar impact as the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing nuclear crisis.

A day later Junichi Fukasawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: The Navanakorn Industrial Park, the largest of its kind in Thailand, could be submerged within two days due to major flooding, a local TV station reported. Floodwater began inundating the industrial park in Pathum Thani Province, and 50 percent of the complex was flooded overnight, according to TV reports. The Thai government was scrambling to set up a new evacuation center as the waters threatened to engulf a nearby campus of Tammasat University, where more than 3,000 people were taking shelter. [Source: Junichi Fukasawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 19, 2011]

“As of mid October , the floods had damaged 10,827 factories in 17 provinces, the Thai Labor Ministry said. According to local newspapers, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand alerted seven industrial parks east of Bangkok to prepare for flooding, as it had done earlier for industrial zones in areas stretching from Ayuttaya to north of Bangkok. There are fears the Navanakorn Industrial Park north of Bangkok and the Bangkadi Industrial Park, where Toshiba Corp. has an electrical appliance factory, could be swamped by the floods.

Impact of the Floods in 2011 on Japanese Companies

Just as Japanese companies were emerging from the trauma of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster they were hit by the floods in Thailand. The floods struck about 450 Japanese firms in seven submerged industrial parks. Vehicle output from Japanese carmakers in Thailand was cut by 6,000 units a day mostly as a result of supply chain disruptions. The floods caused Toyota to cut output in a number of countries. Helicopter shots showed vehicles submerged under water at a Honda plant in the Ayuttaya. Many family members of Japanese workers at the industrial complexes returned home temporarily.

In mid October, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Honda Motor Co. suspended production at its factory in Rojana, Ayutthaya, on October 4. The factory is the company's largest in Southeast Asia annually producing 240,000 cars. A Honda official said conditions at the factory could not be confirmed. Since submerged production equipment needs to be replaced, and utilities have to be restored, a lengthy disruption is likely. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri, October 18, 2011+++]

“Toyota Motor Corp. is expected to suspend production at its three factories there as it is unable to obtain some parts, including aluminum wheels, due to submerged roads and factories. The situation is thought to be a serious blow for Toyota, whose production in Thailand is its third-largest outside of Japan, following the United States and China. In 2010, it produced about 630,000 vehicles in Thailand. To make up for the production loss, Toyota said it is considering importing parts from Japan or temporarily shifting production to other countries. +++

“Electronic manufacturers also are heavily dependent on production in Thailand. Nikon Corp.'s Thailand plant produces low- to mid-range single-lens reflex cameras, which account for 90 percent of the company's SLR camera production. Sony Corp. manufactures all of its digital SLR cameras in the industrial area of Ayutthaya. Nidec Corp. suspended production of hard disk motors at its factory in Thailand on Oct. 10, causing concerns about supplies to other companies. +++

Companies Recover from the Floods in Thailand in 2011

According to the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand, 684 plants, or 81.5 percent, of 839 in the seven industrial complexes had resumed operations as of early September 2012. Amount of production restored at the seven industrial complexes as of September 2012 are (from Ayutthaya south to Bangkok): 1) Saha Rattana Nakom, with 46 plants (58.7 percent); 2) Rojana, with 213 plants (77.9 percent); 3) Hi-Tech, with 143 plants (79 percent); 4) Bang Pa-in, with 90 plants (87 percent); 5) Factory Land, with 84 plants (100 percent); 6) Nava Nakorn, with 227 plants (81.9 percent); and 7) Bankadi, with 36 plants (80.6 percent).

After the 2011 floods a massive dike campaign was launched to protect factories. The work was done with some urgency so it would be finished before the brunt of the 2012 rainy season set in. Some firms were asked to accept changes in the terms of their insurance coverage. "We may not be able to get insurance coverage," an automaker official said.

Takeshi Nagata wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Nava Nakorn Industrial Estate, one of seven industrial complexes flooded last year, hosts many Japanese-affiliated companies. The main portion of its anti-flood dike was completed in late August. The 20.6-kilometer concrete dike surrounds the entire complex. The dike stands 5.5 meters above sea level, which is one meter higher than the maximum water level seen during last year's flooding. [Source: Takeshi Nagata, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 6, 2012 ]

“Rojana Industrial Park accommodates plants of such Japanese companies as Honda Motor Co. and Nikon Corp. A 77.6-kilometer anti-flood dike was almost completed there in September. The dike's total construction cost is 2.17 billion baht (about $70 million). In other industrial complexes, 70 percent to 80 percent of anti-flood projects have been completed. However, in Saha Rattana Nakorn Industrial Estate, which was the first to go under in last year's flood, anti-flood efforts have been delayed because the estate's operating company is undergoing business rehabilitation. At the complex, construction of a temporary dike made of soil just began in late August. An official of one company in the industrial complex said: "If a flood occurs again, the soil dike won't prevent damage. We have to monitor water levels on our own to be able to take countermeasures as quickly as possible."

“One plant was told by a client it would not place future orders with the plant as long as the facility was located in the flood-prone region. Such incidents have led to an increasing number of affected companies and plants asking the Thai government to take more drastic actions to resolve the issue.”

Rebuilding and High Insurance rates After the Flooding in 2011

David Fogarty and Clare Baldwin of Reuter wrote: “At an industrial estate on the flat plains north of Bangkok, where Japan's Toshiba makes lighting and home appliances, workers rush to finish a 9.5-km (6-mile) concrete and earth dike that is 1.5 meters (5 ft) higher than the old one. Behind them, a brown stain runs along the factory buildings where floodwaters lingered for two months, knocking out major foreign-owned manufacturing operations and triggering a flurry of business interruption claims around the world. [Source: David Fogarty and Clare Baldwin, Reuter, July 22, 2012 +^+]

“After the floods, property insurance rates in Thailand doubled or tripled and flood cover greatly reduced or even refused in some cases, said Jiraphant Asvantanakul, president of The General Insurance Association of Thailand. +^+

“Manufacturers such as Toshiba are moving machinery to the second storey, setting up sister operations in other countries and finding back-up warehouses and suppliers, though the bulk of operations remain in Thailand. "I think the factories will stick with Thailand because the supply chain network is still very strong ... it is not that easy to move," said Kobkarn Watanavarangkul, executive chairwoman of Toshiba's Thai unit. +^+

“Toshiba's factories are in the Bangkadi industrial estate, one of seven parks built on former rice paddies on floodplains north of Bangkok that were inundated in the 2011 floods that also affected companies such as Sony, Canon and Honda. Close to where workers were toiling to build new flood defenses to protect the complex was a bronze statue of an elderly couple standing on sandbags. They are the estate's founders and the statue commemorates a flood in 1995 in which 1 million sandbags were used to fend off high waters, a reminder that this is not the first time the estate has been threatened.” +^+

Japanese Companies One Year After the 2011 Floods

Japanese factories still had not recovered from the flood damage by the middle of 2012. As of October 2012, a year after floods struck, about 80 percent of Japanese firms in flood-stricken areas were fully or partially operational. But restoration progress has varied according to sector and size. In September 2012, Yasuaki Nakane and Takeshi Nagata wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “small and midsize manufacturers of electronic components for home appliances restored most of their production equipment to pre-flooding levels. Yet operations stand at only about 40 percent of capacity, and lights remain off at half of these factories. One company executive said, "Only two-thirds of our clients have returned." The executive said the company achieved only about 40 percent of its sales target. [Source: Yasuaki Nakane and Takeshi Nagata, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 5, 2012 ^^]

“The company reduced its local factory workforce to one-third of the pre-flood number, but a Thai government measure introduced in April to drastically raise the minimum wage level has cut into profits. Thus many companies have been plagued by three major challenges: the impact of the flood itself, the economic slowdown and wage increases. "We're looking into whether we should continue our business operations here," the executive said.” ^^

“For small and midsize companies hit by the flooding, resuming business with clients is of critical importance. However, an increasing number of industry leaders, particularly electronics makers, are leaving the country or partially relocating their operations. Sumitomo Bakelite Co., a major manufacturer of electronic materials, moved its production of packaging materials for semiconductors from Thailand to Singapore in August. The company decided to close its badly damaged plant in Thailand as restoration would take a considerable amount of time. Sony Corp. is also exploring alternate uses for its flood-hit plant with production of cameras and semiconductors suspended for the time being. After two of its plants for car navigation systems and other products were submerged in the flooding, Pioneer Corp. shifted some of its Thai production to Malaysia and elsewhere.” ^^

“Meanwhile, firms in automobile-related sectors have been recovering steadily. The Thai government's incentive program for car buyers, along with upbeat auto sales in Southeast Asia, have provided a boost. "The importance [of Thailand] as a production base and a consumer market remains completely unchanged," an official from Honda Motor Co. said. Other automakers have also increased production in the country. In January, Toyota Motor Corp. announced plans to build its fourth factory in Thailand.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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