|Bangkok flooding about 1900|
LL/Roger Viollet as published in the Wall Street Journal
It has a long history of flooding. In 1785 there was a flood of nearly 15' height, and one of 10' height in 1819. In 1917 all roads were underwater for a month and in 1942 a 5' high flood stayed for two months. The current flood is the biggest since the 1942 flood, although there have been significant floods in 1975, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1995, and 1996. Over the centuries, the city had developed a large system of canals to drain the water to the ocean, but as industrialization and modernization many of these canals, including the one in the picture, were paved over to make streets and living and factory space.
Bangkok is sinking at a rate that may bring it to sea level within decades, possibly as early as 2030. However, there is one major difference between Bangkok and cities like Venice or Amsterdam that are at or below sea level. These last two cities average about 32" of rain per year, Bangkok receives nearly double that rain, 57". This year there has already been 86". These rains are from the rainy season monsoon. The economic impacts of the floods this year are serious. One third of the country is flooded, 10% of the rice crop is gone, damage already exceeds $4 billion, and economic growth for next year will be reduced by 1-2%. There are political implications as well--the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra is new and inexperienced, having only taken office in July. Although the normally politically polarized Thai's have unified remarkably under the stress of the floods, the opposition, which has close ties to the military, is calling for a state of emergency to be declared and for the military to take control. The Thai military is "not inexperienced" at launching coups d'etat. We are watching an intricate unfolding of natural hazards, economic and political interplays.