Interview with Promboon Panitchpakdi, Executive Director Raks Thai Foundation (CARE Thailand)
Thailand has been experiencing severe floods for several weeks now. How is the situation at the moment?
Thailand has encountered the worst floods in 50 years. Almost 60 of the country's 76 provinces have been affected, impacting some eight million people. But even though the rains have stopped now, vast masses of water are flowing from the north to the south, inundating large areas and destroying homes, roads, farmlands and industrial compounds. Many businesses had to close down and I fear that after this natural disaster, Thailand will face an economic crisis.
The main amount of water is still in the central provinces and in some areas it has risen up to three meters. People need boats or trucks to move around and provide assistance to those in need. More than 300 people died, mainly due to drowning and electric shocks. The provinces will stay inundated for at least one more month, some even longer.
How have the floods affected Bangkok?
Bangkok is located right at the southern spot where the water is flowing. So the water coming from the north flows into the Chaopraya river, which runs through the capital city. This means that eventually Bangkok will be flooded to the same extent as the other provinces, with water masses standing between one and three meters high. The government tries to divert the water to the western side, which is a suburb area, and therefore a lot of people are being evacuated. But even with all these efforts, the water gradually creeps closer; the old Don Muang airport is already half a meter under water. People are building sand bag dykes and trying to irrigate the many canals into the sea fast enough. But most calculations say that more and more areas of Bangkok will become flooded - including our office. We will need to relocate our key staff to a city outside of Bangkok.
What are the main needs of the population?
The floods have destroyed houses, crops, livelihoods. In those areas that have been flooded for almost one month now, water and sanitation conditions are very poor and people start to become sick with diarrhea and other diseases that come with dirty water. Many evacuation centers are crowded and ill-equipped without enough supplies to assist people who have lost everything.
But those affected most are marginalized groups, such as migrant workers. There are around three million migrant workers in Thailand that live here either with or without documents, most of them coming from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. They separate themselves from the Thai population through their language, uncertain status and fear of extortion. There is a real risk that they will be excluded from relief efforts. Migrant workers who are staying in apartment buildings are isolated, many are lacking food, water and other basic supplies and some of them have no access to public health services. They cannot travel to their homelands because their travel documents are often kept by their employer. Many have lost their jobs and their means to support their families.
How is Raks Thai assisting the migrant workers?
We conducted an initial assessment to find out their most urgent needs. Since many workers have been employed on a daily basis, they have no money to buy food. Also, in some areas outside of Bangkok most of the shops have run out of food and basic supplies. Raks Thai will therefore support almost 20,000 migrant workers, women and children in four provinces with food, clean water and essential relief items. We will organize and facilitate the transport of vulnerable people to emergency shelters and temporary accommodation. We plan to install water supply systems and implement sanitation and waste management systems.
ABOUT RAKS THAI (CARE THAILAND): Raks Thai Foundation was established in 1997 and became a member of CARE International in 2003. The organization employs 286 staff, 47 of which are nationalities of the migrant workers in Thailand. Raks Thai has responded to the 2004 tsunami and provided support to 113 communities in Thailand. Since then Raks Thai Foundation has implemented emergency response programs to several floods that hit the country.
Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE places special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. Women are at the heart of CARE's community-based efforts to improve education, health and economic opportunity.