Amidst Rising Water, One City Stands Resilient
In 2010, when Hat Yai experienced its worst floods in 70 years, Phubes Saechin found his store under 1.3 meters of water. As a 50-year resident of the city, Phubes had become accustomed to floods—his business, Cybertech, a computer supplies retailer, had been affected on an almost annual basis since its opening in 1984. But this was different: in some parts of the city, water levels rose to over 3 meters. Tens-of-thousands of residents were trapped in their homes, power was cut off, supplies dwindled, and property and possessions were destroyed.
Hat Yai, a major urban center in the south of Thailand, is situated in Songkhla province. It has a strong tourism economy, and is the commercial capital of the region. As the city continues to grow, it is expected to experience more and more climate related stresses, including rising average temperatures, heavier rainfall, a shorter rainy season, and increasingly irregular and intense storms.
But as the threats accumulate, and the challenges build, a positive change is also taking hold in Hat Yai. While flooding is inevitable, projects driven by the Rockefeller Foundation-initiated Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), are helping to usher in a new era of resilience and fostering a new atmosphere of cooperation and trust among community stakeholders.
At the heart of the new direction for the city is a multi-stakeholder process that involves government departments and communities, residents and business owners, working together to confront their common challenges. This approach has brought benefits that extend beyond the threat of floods—it has also helped build trust between the local population and the government, bridging political and social divides.
Phubes Saechin, owner of Cybertech, looks at a site showing live footage of the canals and rivers in Hat Yai that provides business and communities with accurate, real time information on water levels.
One example is the establishment of a closed circuit television (CCTV) system that allows anyone in Hat Yai city, and beyond, to monitor water levels in various channels approaching the city online and in real time, providing as much as nine hours of forewarning in the event of flooding. Phubes has played a key role in the project, first by consulting, and then engaging directly in the setup of the system.
Before the CCTV project—which cost the city only a little over 200,000 baht, or $6,100—business owners struggled to access reliable information. Often, the government’s warnings would come only as the water was already lapping up against the sides of homes and small enterprises. Now, with access to reliable and readily accessible information, community members know when to take precautions, and when it’s safe not to.
And progress looks set to continue—the current 9-hour warning time could be increased to three days within the next two years. More cameras, more reach and better information will make Hat Yai more resilient, both in the short term and for generations to come.