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Thailand under water

The government in Thailand estimates that over three million people have now been affected by floods which have inundated towns and villages in half the provinces. A month of unusually heavy monsoon rains has overfilled the rivers and flood waters have gradually spread across the country. The number killed has been rising steadily and according to the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, the death toll now stands at 104. The capital, Bangkok, has been placed on high alert and riverbanks have been piled with sandbags to prevent the swollen waters from breaking through.

This week, the southern region bordering with Malaysia has been badly affected, with waters reaching 2 metres high in some areas. Around 12,000 people have been evacuated from the bordering regions. Eighty per cent of the commercial hub of Hat Yai is reported to be flooded and according to the mayor, 100,000 people are believed to be stuck in their homes, many experiencing shortages of water, electricity and food.

Millions of dollars of aid will be distributed by the Thai government, which in October doubled its provincial emergency budget to 100 million baht (3.3 million dollars). The state has promised handouts to at least 600,000 families, which means an estimated 3.7 million people will benefit from a cash payment of 5,000 baht (170 dollars).

The Prime Minister of Thailand has declared the floods are the country’s worst in decades and warned that economic growth is likely to be affected. Thailand’s south grows around 90 per cent of the country’s annual production of 3 million tonnes of rubber. Output normally falls at this time because of the rainy season, but the impact on trading this year could be significant. One industry official said that farmers were unable to tap rubber in over half the region’s growing areas, which could lead to a 20 or 30 per cent reduction overall.

Thailand is also the world’s largest exporter of rice. Early estimates are that 10,000 hectares of paddy fields may have been destroyed, but it is not yet possible to know the full extent of the damage to crops. With global food prices under pressure from disasters elsewhere, importers of rice across the world will be hoping the impact of the floods will not be too great on Thailand’s supply.

Flood waters usually recede fairly quickly in Thailand. But in some areas it may take weeks for the waters to recede. In the meanwhile, many communities are getting by as best they can in towns and villages where the streets look more like canals.

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