Heavy rains in Thailand caused extreme flooding in many parts of the country this month, in what has become the nation’s most expensive natural disaster. The country's finance minister put the cost of damage at $3.9 billion and with more than 10% of the country's rice farms destroyed, the economic impact of the flooding is set to last far longer than the high waters.
Yet despite the economic impact of the flooding, the disaster has also helped bring the nation back together after several years of political and social divisions that culminated in the much publicised bloody street battles in Bangkok last April.
In a massive show of national concern, Thai people of all ages and backgrounds have joined the relief effort, donating essential supplies and volunteering much needed practical support that extended far beyond financial contributions.
At Bangkok's Don Muang airport, thousands of volunteers, among them children and the elderly, spent several days helping separate and pack donated goods into relief bags, which were then delivered in sets to relief distribution centres set up by the army and PTT, Thailand's national petroleum company. In addition to sending supplies to people stranded the worst hit areas, many of the country's public offices, universities and temples were also converted into refuge centres for those forced to leave their homes, while on the inundated streets of deluged cities and towns, people carried the weak to safety and the nation's young rushed to help the old.
Funds were also quickly donated. The Thai royal family provided much needed financial assistance to communities nationwide and also sent out mobile kitchen staff. Further money and supplies were donated through the local media and charity foundations. Thailand's business sector also joined the mercy mission, launching a number of campaigns to provide victims with timely help and support. AIS and DTAC, two of the country's largest mobile phone providers set up a system to make SMS donations with the help of the country's Channel 3 news channel. Siam Commercial Bank set up ATM donations with no fee for transferring money and also established emergency credit lines worth more than THB10 billion to assist flood affected customers. Krungthai Card Plc, one of the nation's credit card providers cancelled all debt obligations to any clients who lost their lives or were seriously injured by the floods. One well known Thai entrepreneur, Tan Passakornnatee, who made his fortune selling bottled green tea, donated THB70 million, as well as sending boats and green tea to flood hit areas. Sadly, he later became a victim himself when one of his factories was flooded, causing damage estimated THB 3.5 billion.
International companies and organisation based in Thailand also offered their support, with Japanese firms showing particularly generosity, even though they are still in recovery themselves after the earthquake and Tsunami. Both the Hitachi Group and the Panasonic Corporation added to the Thai relief effort, each providing some THB30 million in support, while Toyota showrooms offering 30% discounts on much needed auto spare parts. On a smaller, more personal scale, the Saudi football squad donated THB500,000 at the start of their World Cup qualifying game with Thailand and the German Ambassador Rolf Schulze gave 40,000 Euro to the Thai Red Cross Society to help flood victims.
With the tourist high season beginning in October, Thailand's main resort islands were fortunately unaffected by the heavy rains. The floods hit land in low-lying agricultural areas and those adjacent to major waterways such as the Chao Phraya River. All airports and major transportation links throughout Thailand continued to operate as normal but travellers were advised to check the latest weather forecasts for their destination and confirm arrangements with the transportation providers. The Tourism Authority of Thailand also set up an information hotline for visitors.
By Jules Kay