A version of this post originally on the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN).
|For Thailand’s Hat Yai, high flood risk and rapid growth have created major disruptions nearly every year.
|In 2011, floods submerged 80% of Hat Yai, suspending the city’s electronic and automotive exports.
|Convening in Hat Yai, ACCCRN launched a regional initiative to share innovative approaches to climate adaptation.
When it rains in Hat Yai, its citizens brace themselves for flooding. Thailand’s southernmost city has seen floods cause major disruption at near yearly intervals over the past decade. Unsurprisingly, Hat Yai was very badly hit by the major floods that hit Thailand in 2011. Almost all of the city’s 16 districts were affected flooding homes and businesses. Eighty percent of the total city area was submerged under waters that reached 3-4 meters in depth in places. Hat Yai being an important commercial hub in the south of Thailand, the floods have had significant economic consequences. Exports of electronic goods and automotive parts to Malaysia, for example, were suspended in 2011 as the floods forced the Sadao border checkpoint to close.
Hat Yai’s geography makes it inherently vulnerable to flood events, but the rapid urban development in the region has exacerbated the problem. Unplanned growth has blocked drains, encroached on floodways and increased the rate of water runoff. Over recent years the city municipality has worked tirelessly to reduce the impact of flooding, making Hat Yai a model for flood resilience that has attracted attention from cities across the region. The city was a fitting venue then, for the recent launch of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) regional knowledge sharing initiative in Thailand.
The 2-day event took place on the 22nd and 23rd of April and saw representatives from Thailand, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and the Philippines, come together to share knowledge about urban climate change resilience and learn from the experience of Hat Yai.
A vulnerable city
The exchange visit began with a welcome from the Mayor of the Hat Yai municipality. He spoke of the importance of the work that had been done by the ACCCRN initiative in the city, to prepare it for the regular deluges.
“Hat Yai is very vulnerable; it floods regularly. The work that has been done by ACCCRN with funding from The Rockefeller Foundation has made a huge impact, not just in reducing the severity of flood damage but in preparing people for the floods,” he said.
The Mayor cited the success of Hat Yai’s dedicate website to help with disaster preparedness (www.hatyaicityclimate.org). The site provides live CCTV footage of water levels at different parts of the river basin, giving people warning when flood waters are coming and where in the city is most affected at times of flood.
Living with the flooding reality
Mr Sompron Siriporananon, head of the chamber of commerce for Songkhla, one of Hat Yai’s sub districts, and a leading figure in the effort to increase the climate resilience of the city, indicated that there had been a recent shift in thinking about how to deal with the flooding in the city.
The reality of Hat Yai’s situation is that, in the near-term at least, it is likely to experience frequent flooding. “This meant that we moved from trying to simply stop the flood waters, to try and think about how we can live with them.”
“We moved from trying to simply stop the flood waters, to try and think about how we can live with them.”
This approach has seen the city municipality increase its emphasis on community-level adaptation measures, with education programmes put in place for residents of vulnerable areas, and a large investment in flood early warning systems.
“We have undertaken a mapping exercise to identify the streets where the most vulnerable people are living, the disabled, families with small children, the sick, the elderly.” Mr Siriporananon explained. “We encourage people who live in 2-story houses to allow their neighbours to use them in times of emergency. We have been successful in creating a community approach to flood protection.”
“Ensuring that key agencies understand and agree on a unified approach is essential for effective flood management.” Mr Siriporananon said indicating that the key to success was integrating planning across multiple agencies and stakeholders in the city.
An indication of the extent to which the idea that preparation is just as important as prevention has permitted thinking in the city, came from a leading Hat Yai municipality civil engineer, Mr Direkrit. “We constructed flood draining channels which were completed in 2003 but in 2010 the flood waters were much higher than these channels,” he explained. “We cannot use man made flood barriers to fight Mother Nature. We need to focus on other methods too; warning, monitoring, education.”
Mr Direkrit was keen to stress that engineered flood protection measures still had a part to play in flood management. Without the network of drainage canals that spread over the catchment area the flooding would be much worse. “The waters in Hat Yai flow very rapidly. In the past, water levels have reached 3-4 meters in some parts of the city. The economic costs of the floods has been rising year-on-year. The city municipality was not able to stand idle,” he said.
Sharing the innovative approaches that have been put in place in Hat Yai with participants working on urban climate resilience across the south Asia region will be vital for effective climate adaptation planning. Sharing and learning in this way is the central aim of the new ACCCRN regional network.