Reducing risk and building capacity in Thailands capital
People row their belongings through a garbage-strewn flooded market. (Reuters/Sukree Sukplang)
Thailand’s long coastline (a total of 2,615 km) makes it especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In this regard, the country’s capital and major port are especially at risk. A recent study ranking the cities of the world most exposed to coastal flooding today and in the future provides interesting insights into this vulnerability (OECD, 2007). The analysis indicates that by the 2070s almost all (90 per cent) of the total asset exposure of large port cities will be concentrated in only eight countries, one of which is Thailand. Thailand ranks sixth in terms of the severity of the projected effects.
Parts of Thailand are already quite susceptible to extreme weather events, such as tropical storms, floods and drought. In 2005, the weather nationwide was characterized by both severe drought and flooding. Several cities and extensive stretches of farmland in six provinces of the Northern Region were inundated by flood waters; 6 deaths were recorded and about 50,000 people were severely affected. In the same year, heavy rainfall and devastating floods inundated eight provinces in the Southern Region, destroying bridges, roads, houses and agricultural land and wiping out large populations of livestock. Yet, 2005 was also marked by critical water shortages in many other parts of the country, particularly in the east (IGES, 2005).
This assessment demonstrates that the impacts of climate change are already being felt as residents of Bangkok experience higher temperatures. The average maximum temperatures observed in Bangkok have risen by 0.8 degrees centigrade, from 32.6 degrees centigrade in 1961 to 33.4 degrees centigrade in 2007. The impacts of climate change on the city are likely to be quite severe, including major flooding due to Bangkok’s low elevation, increased land subsidence which is already occurring, problems of water supply provision and contamination, air pollution and oppressive heat with associated health consequences, increases in infectious diseases and decrease in biomass production.
The Bangkok Assessment Report on Climate Change 2009 is one of the outputs of this capacity-building programme, and the first UNEP endeavour conducted in partnership with a city authority to assess climate change impacts, to support decision makers in understanding the need for urgent action and to mobilize public awareness and participation.
To address the likely changes in the climate and their impacts on the city’s economy and inhabitants, it is necessary to initiate a coordinated approach from all sectors at the local level. Those requiring timely intervention are energy, transport, alternative energy sources for transport and household uses, health, sustainable agriculture to reduce dependence on the long-haul transport of agricultural products, changes in consumption patterns and behaviour, and education and awareness programmes to increase the understanding of and knowledge about the ongoing and expected climate change impacts.
Bangkok is preparing to adapt to climate change and respond to the effects that already are under way as well as those that may occur in the future. These adaptation measures should include the following:
• Improving the local public health infrastructure;
• Creating early warning systems for severe weather and pollution;
• Implementing stricter zoning and building codes to minimize storm damage;
• Improving disease surveillance and prevention programmes;
• Educating local health professionals and the general public about the health risks associated with climate change;
• Changing both water infrastructure and management to prevent contamination of potable supplies;
• Undertaking steps to protect people living in Bangkok from high temperatures both during the day and at night. This may include providing emergency shelters for the most vulnerable citizens during times of extreme heat;
• Remaining alert for new and better information about the impacts of global warming on the communities and translating that knowledge into local policies and practices that protect public health as well as social and economic infrastructure.
Jinhua Zhang, Dechen Tsering
Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), UNEP, Green Leaf Foundation (GLF)