BANGKOK – Shrugging her shoulders at the leech-marks on her shin, Kanita Somsaard emptied her wellington boots, for what she said was the fourth or fifth time that day so far. “By now we are used to the water”, she said, “I haven’t had time to go looking for bigger ones”, she added, pointing at her 10 inch high black rubber boots, which she nonetheless wears while wading through the 3 feet of water surrounding her home in Minburi, a northern suburb of Bangkok.
“The water came a week ago”, said her friend Riaam Faklek, lounging on a wicker-table a mere 6 inches above the water surface. “The Government asked us to move out, but we want to stay near our homes”. The families on this street have been staying at the school grounds beside the Mai Lamnokkwack Buddhist temple, and say there they will remain until the fetid brown and green water turning their streets into canals recedes.
“We are not angry so much with the Government”, said Riaam, “but they did not send anyone here to look at our village yet. How can they know how bad it is or why we should move to a shelter?”
The flooding, which started north of Bangkok in late July and has killed over 500 people, is bearing down on central Bangkok at time when most of capital enjoys one of Thailand’s major holidays. Every year, Thais float ‘krathongs’ – flower-laden and candle-lit miniature boats that supposedly wash away past misfortunes and symbolise rebirth – in a Hindu-origin ceremony that honours a local water goddess.
The festival runs today, but will not take place in some of the usual locations where huge crowds gather to fight for a space to launch their Krathongs, such as along the now-swollen Chao Praya river. The boats could clog drains and impede drainage, with about 360 million cubic meters of water still to drain from the north of the city, according to disaster expert Dr Seri Suparathit of Rangsit University – itself flooded.
Concerns have been about the Saen Seab canal – which if overflows is likely to flood additional areas of the inners city, while the Government’s Flood Relief Operations Command head, Justice Minister Pracha Promnok, was quoted in the Bangkok Post on Wednesday as saying that he did not know whether or not the south-bound Rama 2 highway or the Victory Monument area of the city would flood. Today, however, the same newspaper ran a frontpage headline saying that Bangkok could be dry in 11 days, based on estimates from Thailand’s Irrigation Dept. However, for those in this heart of Bangkok, site of the anti Government redshirt protests that closed-off the area for several weeks in April 2010, the wait for the waters goes on, with flood barriers and sluice gates to the north holding back much of the mass of water, for now.
Aerial and satellite images show lying to the north of the capital, but now reaching into eastern part of the city as far as Ladphrao, a busy shopping and court district, and leaving western districts under water for more than 10 days.
One possible palliative for the retch-inducing water around Riaam and Kanita’s homes are the thousands of Effective Micro-organism (EM) balls which were being rolled-up by volunteers over four days from Thursday-Sunday last week, in various points in Bangkok.
Florida-born Tony Budaeng is now working for a market research company in Thailand, the country where his parents where born. Helping manage the EM balls making operation at Chitlom, at heart of the much-mentioned ‘inner city’ of Bangkok, yet to be flooded but awaiting the arrival of the slow-moving, blockaded waters sitting to the north, he said that “the balls help clean stagnant water in flooded areas”.
That said, he acknowledged that “there may be waste issues after the life-span of the balls runs out, and there are a lot of factors, such as sunlight, oxygen, that determine how well they work in the water”, he said, when asked about what some pundits have touted as the questionable efficacy of the balls, which are a mixture of fine rice grains, sand, water and microbes – apparently the elixir in the mixer that turns nasty floodwater into something at least somewhat more benign.
Among the hundreds sitting outside Amarin Plaza and in the hallways inside, were people already affected by the floods, including Jittrapo Harncharencheep, a graphic designer whose family’s home on Prachachoen Road is flooded. “But not all the balls I make are for my home”, she said, sitting alongside friend Winnyza Banchingkiart, an Airline Business student at Stamford University in Bangkok. “We live near Suvarnabhumi” (Bangkok’s main airport, protected for now from floods by a massive external barrier running around the airport grounds), “and the canal near my soi is very high”, she said.