Will Bangkok survive floods or is a shift on the cards?

THE heavy rainfall causing flash floods in Bangkok early this month has reminded what Professor Dr Art-ong Jumsai na Ayudhya, a 76-year-old former Nasa scientist, had suggested near a decade ago that Thailand should move its capital city from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima.”

Nakhon Ratchasima, located in the Northeast around 260 km from Bangkok, is one of the four major cities of Isan, known as the “big four of Isan”. The city is commonly known as Korat, a shortened form of its name.

Dr Art-ong cited the risk of higher sea level as a cause to more flooding in Bangkok aside from the risk of tsumani if there is any earthquake, saying moving the capital city is a big deal and has to be well planned years ahead.

BKK floods resized

Moving the capital city has been a subject of discussion from time to time among the previous governments, even before Myanmar moved its capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw, as and when there was heavy flooding, the latest being in 2010 but nothing is concerte.

Just early this month, heaviest rainfall hit Bangkok again.

It was measured in Bang Sue district with record high 100 mm, turning 12 locations into small klongs of between 10-50 cm in depth in many areas including Chaengwattana, Bang Khen, Pahonyothin, Vibhavadi Rangsit, Sukhumvit and Sathorn, causing heavy traffic nightmare which paralyzed the city for several hours.

Experts said the flooding was due to not enough monkey cheeks to absorb excess water. Bangkok needs another 10 monkey cheeks in addition to the existing 25 to hold excess water of up to 25 million cubic meters. But that’s impossible and on the contrary more housing estates have been built to occupy areas supposed to be monkey cheeks.

Khao Yai vinyard (2)

Rapid city expansion has reduced the uninhabited space earlier used to store rain water.  Water retention area in suburban Bangkok had been reduced by 40 percent as a result of urbanization, leaving the city with fewer water retention areas.

Professor Thanawat Charupongsakul of Thailand Environment Institute once pointed out that the city’s drainage system could cope with only 60mm/ hour of rainwater because of  limited capacity.

The garbage problem blocking the drainage system has reduced the drainage capacity from 60mm/hour to only 40mm/hour of rainwater with as much as 10-20 tonnes of garbage retrieved every day from the city’s klongs which are the main conduit for draining of water into the Chao Phraya river.

He also pointed out that another key reason is that the number of condominiums being built in Bangkok has put a lot of pressure on the present drainage system.

Khao Yai vinyard (1)

“Just imagine several hundreds of condominium each with hundreds of room units flushing water each day into the drainage system,” he said, adding the authorities have never had a proper plan to regulate those condos to have a waste water reserve area.

He said Bangkok’s drainage system is inadequate and the city has so far not released enough water from the canals to handle sustained heavy rain.

Mr Thanawat said he worried about October because that is when runoff from the North and high tides increase the water level in the Chao Phraya river as the city’s river embankment is about 2.5m above mean sea level, but provinces upstream, especially those with industrial estates, have built and increased the heights of their levees and flood walls, so the runoff will be blocked and eventually move toward Bangkok.

In the long run experts including Mr. Thanawat think there is no way out for Bangok where flood problem is concerned as the sea level is gradually increasing all the time while construction of condominiums and high rise buildings continue without the water drainage system being upgraded.

Property developers continue to construct condominiums and buildings because their business is to build and sell those properties and once sold, it’s the fate the buyers have to face in the future and not their business any more, an expert said, adding that the owners of those firms or the well-to-do Bangkokians all have their reserve homes or property outside Bangkok, in Khao Yai at Korat for example.

Top and first inset: There was nightmare traffic jams in Bangkok on October 14, 2017 after torrential downpours overnight.  Photos: Thai Rath

Second inset: Italian style street outpost Primo Posto at Khao Yai in Korat. Photo: Prem Sichanugrist (CC-BY-2.0)

Third inset: A vineyard at Primo Posto. Photo: . Photo: Prem Sichanugrist (CC-BY-2.0)

By Kowit Sanandang