For decades, Southeast Asia has been seeking better systems to monitor and deal with natural disasters, a subject that got a lot of renewed attention after the Asian tsunami in the waning days of 2004 caused more than 275,000 confirmed deaths in the Indian Ocean region, 4,800 in Thailand alone, including a grandson of the Thai king. The issue of disaster management is back in full force again as floods have killed 527 people as of Nov. 8 in Thailand, many of them electrocuted by live wires in flood waters. Many others have been injured and displaced from their homes throughout the affected region in recent weeks.
At the end of October, Thai officials asked the United Nations for more access to satellite images of rising flood waters that now threaten central Bangkok, a port city on a major river, after they submerged a large area north and east of the urban region. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific responded quickly to the request. The commission, which is based in Bangkok, pulled together a group of international partners willing to provide real-time images of flooded areas and flood waves.
The new partnership is also committed to helping Thailand with developing long-term risk-management practices.
This year’s floods are the worst in more than half a century, Thai officials say. But flooding happens frequently in Bangkok during heavy rainy seasons. Environmentalists and city planners alike have pointed to the rapid and often unregulated development of the Bangkok region and the decisions made over the years to fill in city canals to build more roads, blocking the natural movement of water.