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Flooding in Thailand threatens the capital

The worst flooding in decades across many parts of Thailand has led to the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, to declare a national crisis.

Torrential rains and mudslides have hit nearly 60 of Thailand’s 77 provinces since July, leaving more than 280 people dead and many homes damaged or destroyed. At least 30 provinces have been inundated. The province of Ayutthaya, around an hour north of Bangkok, has so far been the worst-affected, with many residents forced to evacuate their homes. Now, as the flood waters drain south, the capital itself is increasingly threatened with its population of 12 million.

Bangkok lies just two metres above sea level. Rivers are already running at high levels and with high estuary tides due in a couple of days, it looks likely banks will burst. Flood barriers have been erected in some outer areas of the city and canals are being dredged deeper to try and take more water. Boat engines are also being used to channel water out to sea. But the capital’s citizens are preparing for the worst, shoring up entrances with sand bags and moving belongings to second storeys. People have also been stocking up on food. This has caused Thailand’s prime minister to call on businesses not to raise prices and encourage hoarding.

An estimated 1.55 million hectares of agricultural land is believed to have been affected by the flooding. The government has therefore warned that this year’s main harvest will be lower than expected, producing around 21 million tonnes of rice rather than 25 million. The floods are also affecting the ability of farmers to deliver their harvest to rice mills in central areas of the country. This means there could be a delay in shipping out rice exports to places such as Indonesia and also to African countries. Such delays and losses in the world’s largest rice exporter are likely to put even more pressure on the price of rice.

So far, the prime minister has decided not to declare a state of emergency in Thailand, with soldiers drafted to help in flood-affected areas and people generally assisting each other. But with more rains forecast, the situation is daily being assessed. Bangkok city officials are certainly taking no chances – they have told all 50 districts of the capital to prepare evacuation plans.

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SOS Children in Thailand

SOS Children’s Villages have been working in Thailand since 1972 and care for over 450 children in five villages across the country, as well as running schools, youth homes and medical centres. Confirmation has been received from Thailand that no SOS facility has so far been affected by the floods, though the SOS Village of Bangpoo in the capital has taken precautionary measures.