Buzzing Bangkok

The taxis are pink, the tuk tuks are large enough to sleep in, the ladyboys prettier than a beauty queen, the food is amazing, everyone is brimming with laughter and smiles, the city is clean and so are the guest houses, people look and talk to me as though I were any human being rather than ignoring, insulting or avoiding me because I’m a woman: I love Thailand.

Bangkok seems more vibrant and exciting each time I visit. Right now there is a contemporary arts festival with music and street sculpture. Tomorrow is Coronation Day here, a national holiday with performances to celebrate. The king is very loved here. Today, I visited the director general of the Thai Meteorological Department, Somchai Baimoung, to learn about the climate models being used here. It wasn’t long before we were discussing the general fabness of the king – something that would be very uncool in Britain.

The Thai king may well have saved a large number of the population from flooding, it turns out. After year upon year of worsening floods during the rainy season, when the central plains of Chaiyaphum are regularly inundated by monsoon waters from the southwest up, and cyclone bearing storms from the east, the king took the initiative (that seems lacking elsewhere in the region) and began a so-called Royal King Project. These are highly respected initiatives dreamt up by the king for the betterment of Thais. In this instance, the Project created a working group that meets every week in the dry season (every two days during the rainy season). The group, which consists of representatives from the meteorological office, hydrological office, energy department, and Bangkok police and local government, shares its latest data and debates important decisions such as whether to open a dam and release water.

It seems common sense that all the interested parties should get together like this, but it is incredibly rare that such communication takes place. The project also involves better communication and warning systems for local communities, who are told in advance what steps they should take to protect themselves and their crops. In the past, such “education” schemes have failed, but because this is a Royal King Project, people believe the warnings and advice.

Somchai tells me that since the meetings started in early 2007, there hasn’t been a single devastating flood because the project has led to good water management.

It’s probably too early to tell how effective the new system is, but surely better communication between agencies can only be a good thing. Trouble is, Somchai is so jubilant over the success of the water management project, he believes it will solve everything. How will Bangkok cope with sea level rise, when every year the high tides in November already raise the waters by 1.5 metres, flooding many homes, I asked him. How will the monsoon waters be flushed to the sea then?

“We will be fine with good water management,” he answered. “Global warming will raise the sea level in many places, but not in Thailand.”

I left the director general of the country’s weather forecast bureau smiling in his armchair under a large portrait of the King.

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