Enhancing water security measures is a priority for Thailand to build climate resilience

|

This page in:

Image
The Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
Aerial view of the Chao Phraya River as it winds through Bangkok near the Grand Palace.

As COP28 takes place in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, it brings together the world at a critical moment for global transformative climate action. Last year’s COP27 made progress with the creation of a loss and damage fund to provide financial assistance to developing nations hit by climate disaster. The timing is perfect as Thailand takes action to enhance water security measures because of increasing risks due to floods and droughts .

Thailand has been a development success story – known for its tourism, economic development, education and centers of excellence. But its risks and vulnerabilities have increased through the years because of climate change. Data show temperature increases since the middle of the 20th century while precipitation events have been less frequent but more intense. Model projections suggest increased flood risks during the wet season and more severe water shortages. Thailand currently ranks ninth globally in the INFORM Index of Risk from floods 

Floods are by far the country’s greatest natural hazard in terms of socio-economic impacts. The 2011 floods caused 680 deaths and affected nearly 13 million people. Moreover, it resulted in damages and economic losses worth an estimated US $46.5 billion, equivalent to 12.6 percent of GDP. Severe floods in October 2022 resulted in government relief spending of US $663 million, or 0.13 percent of GDP. 

The country also frequently suffers from droughts resulting from a shortage of rainfall, reduced flow in surface and sub-surface rivers, and poor land management practices. Severe droughts in 1979, 1994, 1999, and 2015 impaired the country. The northeastern region with the highest poverty rates is particularly vulnerable.

The 2011 flooding was a turning point and a wake-up call. Learning from this, the Thai government has been investing in more sustainable and resilient water management systems. It also integrated climate change in water resources management in order to prepare systematic plans for responding to extreme water events. This response combines adaptation to cope with increased risks due to climate change; it also includes mitigation to reduce climate change impacts. The Royal Irrigation Department has studied the underlying causes of floods and developed an integrated and multi-pronged program to improve flood control in the greater Bangkok area.

This program, called the “Chao Phraya 9 Plans”, includes comprehensive water management investments with an estimated cost of US$ 9.4 billion. It will provide flood protection for the country’s most important river basin which is a source of half of the country’s agricultural production and economic life. It will also increase its hydraulic capacity to channel floods through the basin with lower risks to life and property.

The World Bank is in discussions with the Government for providing support to the 9 Plans Program, starting with financing for implementation of Plan 1. Plan 1 investments include improvement of 23 channels and related hydraulic infrastructure over a length of 494 km, for a budget of US$ 1.85 billion. The goal is to double the drainage capacity from 210 cubic meters per second to 400 cubic meters per second, from the Rama 6 diversion dam to the Gulf of Thailand. It will also increase storage capacity for use during the dry season by 18 million cubic meters per year, and protect about 44,160 ha of land area. 

While the government has made much progress to better cope with floods and droughts, certain challenges remain. There is a need to accelerate the implementation of the Royal Initiative for Flood Management. This provides more areas for water retention and establishes a robust data and information management system. Strengthening flood forecasting and early warning systems that incorporate climate change modeling and hazard mapping are also needed. Land use planning, nature-based solutions and green development, with strong integration of community-led planning and implementation, are effective flood prevention measures. In China, for example, the Yellow River Basin Project significantly reduced flood risk for millions, provided more sustainable land use, prolonged the lives of storage reservoirs and stabilized the river course.

The World Bank supports a sustainable and resilient development pathway for Thailand at this critical juncture. We recently conducted a water sector assessment on identifying the needed water resources management improvements. The latest World Bank Thailand Economic Monitor also focused on coping with El Nino.

The COP28 Presidency and Commissioner expressed their shared conviction that COP28 must accelerate practical action on mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage and climate finance that leaves no one behind. This message fully resonates with Thailand’s objective to build a more resilient development pathway and realize its vision of achieving a high-income country status by 2037. The “9 Plans” can potentially improve the lives of millions of Thais. It is also a good working model for countries building resilience via effective flood management measures to prevent climate shocks.

Learn more about flood risk mitigation in Thailand and how the World Bank is supporting. 
 

Authors

Georges Comair

Senior Water Resources Specialist

Sanjay Pahuja

Senior Water Resources Specialist

Fabrizio Zarcone

World Bank Country Manager for Thailand

Join the Conversation