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Bangkok: The Atlantis of the Pacific?

A new piece in The Diplomat explores the environmental and human factors contributing to what could be a Bangkok that is partially underwater by 2030. As stated by the author, Stephen Finch:

The most pessimistic forecasts suggest parts of the capital could be underwater by 2030 as the increasing population sucks up ground water, and other environmental factors take their toll.

In addition to this problem, Bangkok sits in a flood plain, and will likely experience more frequent, and more erratic, extreme weather events (particularly erratic cycles of drought and flooding) as climate change progresses.

But some may wonder, isn’t Thailand used to extreme weather events, and thus well-prepared to adapt its infrastructure to this new reality? The answer is that the “unprecedented uncertainty” associated with global climate change makes all such questions difficult to answer in the affirmative.

As we stated previously:

Thailand is accustomed to dealing with large amounts of rain. But recently, an erratic monsoon season caught the government off-guard. From January to September of 2011, the monthly totals for average rainfall far surpassed the average monthly rainfall for the last 30 years. This was in stark contrast to the monsoon season of 2010, which dropped an unusually small amount of rain on the country, precipitating a drought. This extreme shift from low rainfall one year, to high rainfall the next, arguably led to the Thai government’s unfortunate decision in 2011 to keep too much water in the dams upstream of Bangkok, thus exacerbating the floods.

Climate change makes matters worse. Climate projections for Thailand threaten increases in extreme weather events, and rainfall variability. A joint World Bank-Asian Development Bank (ADB) report released in 2010 projects that Bangkok’s flood-prone areas will experience more extreme weather, and a 2009 ADP report asserted that Thailand is already experiencing more frequent and destructive extreme weather events than in the past. These climate projections will exacerbate existing risks and vulnerabilities, such as the sub-optimal location of people and infrastructure in Thailand’s lowlands. The Chao Phyra river’s flood plain, for example, is full of urban and industrial settlements.  This has exposed significant numbers of people and critical infrastructure to flooding, as natural routes for flood waters have been turned into settled communities. On top of this, the country has just emerged from a period of extreme political instability.

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