As Bangkok braces for the possibility of catastrophic flooding this weekend,Catholic Relief Services is supporting our partners in Thailand as they help thousands of people affected by the country’s worst flooding in decades. Under the direction of Caritas Thailand, CRS has already helped distribute bags of rice and noodles, emergency medicine, hygiene kits and other emergency supplies, with the goal of reaching more than 60,000 people in need.
The floods, which have affected nine million people throughout the country, have killed almost 400 people so far. Catholic Bishops in Thailand have asked the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and CRS to pray for the flooding victims, and requested technical assistance from the CRS Emergency Response Team.
Team members Ross Tomlinson and Donal Reilly, based in Kenya, traveled to Thailand to offer on-the-ground support to CRS partners. During the last week, Caritas Thailand mobilized volunteers to work in 11 relief centers run by the Diocesan Social Action Centers, where short-term emergency shelter and food is being provided.
Tomlinson, a veteran of many emergency response efforts, commented on the spirit of cooperation evident at the scene.
“It was quite impressive to see the priests and nuns, Buddhist monks, local civilian authorities and ordinary citizens all working together to show compassion for the flooding victims,” said Tomlinson, CRS Emergency Technical Advisor for Water and Sanitation. “And I’ll never forget how recognizable the various teams of helpers were, with their different colored clothing. The Buddhist monks in their saffron robes, the volunteers mobilized by Caritas Thailand wearing bright pink vests, working alongside people in regular Thai civilian clothing, as well as the priests and nuns—all coordinating efforts against the backdrop of bright green rice fields. It was very colorful. And the system in place for distributing emergency supplies was extremely organized and orderly,” he said.
Flood Waters Heading South
An unusually heavy monsoon season in Thailand began in late July and has resulted in the most severe flooding situation the country has faced in more than 50 years. Massive floodwaters have destroyed homes, ruined farms, closed factories, and damaged close to 3,000 schools. Flooding began in Thailand’s northern highlands and has progressed south, now threatening to inundate Bangkok, the country’s sprawling capital of 16 million people.
Monthly high tides will cause the Chao Praya River to reach record high levels this weekend. High tide, combined with poorly functioning water pumps and overwhelmed drainage systems, have increased the likelihood that inner city areas of Central Bangkok will be inundated. The Thai government declared a five-day holiday from October 27-31 so that citizens can evacuate at-risk areas.
Residents and shop-owners are preparing for the worst-case scenario by building walls of either concrete or sandbags to protect their homes and shops.