Interview with Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra
What are the most important lessons the city of Bangkok has learned from last year’s flooding?
We must not be caught, we meaning the whole country, must not be caught like this again. I think there was a collective responsibility that the flood became so damaging and we all have to be better prepared for next year.
There has been a lot of criticism, a lot of fighting, how do you get people to work together?
We have to work together, and I think the fighting was rather exaggerated. We did work together on a daily basis. But sometimes we, we meaning the government and people like us at the BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Administration), see things differently. I don’t think it’s abnormal. The situation was very serious. Different parties have varying views. The point was that in the end we worked together very well and in fact the damage to Bangkok was far less than many people had predicted earlier on so I think that bore testimony to the ability to work together.
Based on that, how relevant is a conference like this one (Save Our Planet)?
I think it’s very relevant for raising awareness of all the issues concerned. When faced with the flood, I don’t think anyone had the time or inclination to think big picture. But perhaps now that the flood is gone, at least for the moment, we have time to reflect on what happened and also time to reflect on the big picture. We need to reflect on the big picture.
In your speech you said that individual people in Bangkok need to make adjustments. What would you say is the most important adjustment Bangkok people need to make?
I think collectively we may have to learn to live with nature as well as to fight nature. From the beginning people have forced nature, clearing the jungle to build houses and so on. Traditionally Thais have always been able to live with nature. Traditional Thai houses are built on stilts, which during the dry season is good for keeping pigs and chickens and so on and during the rainy season it keeps people dry and safe. So maybe we have to learn from our ancestors to live with nature. We can not fight nature the whole time. So we have to do both, to fight nature and to live with nature.
What can the Thai people do to ready themselves for next year?
The weakest point in the whole of BMA’s operations to help people during the flooding was the fact that many, many people refused to leave their communities and homes, even though they were severely flooded. We had prepared evacuation centers for them. This was a very big lesson, simply that a lot of Thai people do not like to leave their homes, especially the elderly. What needs to be done and what we will try our best to do before next rainy season is to make communities better prepared. Not only to safeguard their homes, but also to look after their own people. If the flooding does come, the BMA has only 100,000 employees, we can not look after nearly 2,000 communities in very small Sois and so on. Especially when access is almost impossible. So communities will have to be strengthened so that they can look after themselves and after weak members in the communities better in the future.
How can these communities be strengthened?
Through training programs and funding. We are trying to set up community funding to help in this regard.