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Thailand Gets UN Help in Tracking Flood Crisis

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.

The UN has set up a partnership to provide live-time flood-tracking information to Thai officials for preventive measures.

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.

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a contribtor to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and before that its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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