For those who live in the United States, this flood is similar to the floods of the Mississippi River in the way that it begins in the northern part of the country and slowly makes its way south. There are always big problems where major rivers converge, as they do in St. Louis (USA) and as they do in Nakhon Sawan (Thailand). During the last major flood of the Mississippi, I remember the discussion of whether to contain the Mississippi to save the farmland or to release the Mississippi to save New Orleans. That is the same discussion is going on here with regard to the farmland and towns around Bangkok, versus the industrial center of Bangkok. As you can see from the map to the left (November 4), there is still a lot of water (blue area on the map) north of the city of Bangkok (white area at the center of the bottom of the map) that has to make its way to the Gulf of Thailand (the black area at the bottom of the map). Needless to say, the people who live on the farms and in the smaller towns don’t see things quite the same way as the people in Bangkok.
The Prime Minister has been saying that the flood water would begin to recede ‘tomorrow’ for several days, but today was the first time that I heard that confirmed by residents in some of the worst hit areas of Bangkok. In some cases, however, the water ‘receding’ has more to do with the tide going out than the movement of flood waters. The Prime Minister is caught between a rock and a hard place as she has promised that the inner city will be protected, but is trying to balance that against the rising chorus of complaints of those who are buried in water outside that district. (This photo is even more sobering when you realize that this is this year’s rice crop and the two nations who export the greatest quantities of rice – Thailand and Vietnam – have been devastated by floods.) The only piece of good news for the Prime Minister is that she was just elected and the next election is four years away. She’s got time to help people forget this particular crisis.
Bangkok is no longer in the international news. It has been displaced by Greece and its financial woes. But the crisis continues here and will for the foreseeable future. The wonderful thing that has come out of this is the incredible stories of people helping other people. Everyone has pitched to help, including Buddhist monks who usually do not have to lift a finger to do anything because they are so revered in this country. The flood has brought people together and strengthen the bonds of community. This has all been helped by messages from the government and music videos that encourage people to help their neighbors because all are Thai. The Thai army has done the most and that has not gone unnoticed. People are encouraged to ‘thank a soldier’ whenever they see those in combat fatigues on the front lines of this disaster.
Who knows what the final outcome will be. Now the debate is whether Suvarnabhumi International Airport will escape this disaster. After all, it is outside of the ‘protected zone.’ Of course, not many tourists are coming here these days and the shelves in the stores that normally hold imported goods are bare – even here in Chiangmai. But my son and my sister and her family are coming in six weeks to celebrate Christmas with us, so I am hoping that this will all be a distant memory by then. Suvarnabhumi International Airport is still operating at this time and the government is working hard to keep it that way. While the US State Department is not encouraging folks to come to Thailand, all the tourism websites continue to reassure prospective travelers that all is well. We trust it will continue to be that way – or that the worst of the disaster is passed before Christmas. Actually, folks here want to insure that all is passed before the King’s birthday on December 5th. We have one month.