Published on Sustainable Cities

Bangkok post 2011 floods: how about the poor?

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The wet season has already arrived in Thailand, and with it, also memories of the devastating floods that in 2011 affected more than 13 million people, left 680 dead, and caused US$46.5 billion in damages and losses. The impact of the floods on businesses and global supply chains has been well-documented with accounts making headlines throughout 2012. But how about the poor?

The flooding altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women - particularly those in already precarious situations. Two years onwards, what has changed? Having visited two slum upgrading projects in north Bangkok last month, there are insights relevant for other Asian cities grappling with rapidly growing populations, the force of natural hazards, and climatic uncertainties.

Not unlike metropolitan cities Jakarta or Manila, Bangkok too has a large slum population. People often live on land belonging to multiple government institutions and private owners. Lacking formal address and citizen’s identification, they have little access to formal institutions, unless it’s facilitated through personal networks. For example, during the flooding, with no income, the poor were unable to pay for their existing debts and saw their obligations (often in the hands of informal lenders) multiply.

Bangkok slum upgradingOne of the recommendations of the post-disaster assessment, conducted by the Thai Government after the 2011 floods with support from the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), was to better address community needs and strengthen local governance as well as overall institutional coordination.

A public organization, the Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI) plays an important role in helping low-income communities to rebuild their homes and lives. Between 2003 and 2009, the urban upgrading program - Baan Mankong or Secure Housing - helped to improve some 13,300 families per year. What are some of its remarkable features?

  1. Relying on institutions and networks: The role of CODI has been vital, helping communities to get organized, articulate their land, housing and financial needs, plan investments, as well as access government funding and experts through self-build networks and links with local universities and NGOs. The scalability of the program has been achieved by working with cooperatives and networks which help build local community leadership and skills.
  2. Using city-wide upgrading as a strategy for tackling urban poverty and managing disaster risks: the program demonstrates that strategic upgrading can help cities to regulate slum development in hazard-prone areas, reduce losses through better emergency and preparedness planning, and promote safe and socio-economically viable neighborhoods, as noted in the recent World Bank report Building Urban Resilience.
  3. The positive impact on the community and its individual members goes far beyond mere asset reconstruction or creation. Visiting the sites, community representatives talked about what it meant for them to start working beyond their individual objective, towards a shared goal, and how rewarding it has been to see individual community members dramatically improve their incomes and lives. The sense of pride in redeveloping their community was immense – children being able to invite their school teacher to visit their homes, relatives suddenly accepting invitations to visit families in their newly rebuilt homes.
  4. Building community resilience to disasters. Strengthening social resilience, improving livelihoods, building local partnerships and trust among communities and public authorities lies at the core of disaster risk management efforts. In one of the projects presentations, the community leader explained that the redevelopment program has helped them face disasters. She didn’t mean just the physical improvements, such as new paths, moving further away from and dredging of the canals, but also the less tangible changes – namely increased cooperation within the community which allowed them, for example, to quickly help the sick and elderly, distribute supplies, and set up alternative modes of transportation in disaster emergencies. She also noted that women have been encouraged to participate and assume leadership roles to increase transparency and relevance for household-level needs.

ImageThere are still many areas in Bangkok in urgent need for redevelopment (and better disaster risk management), and CODI’s efforts depend on continued government support. The Baan Mankong initiative has created is a vision of how the lives of the most vulnerable populations can be improved, and the benefiting communities are a living example of what “change” means on the ground.

Neither community-driven development nor community-based post-disaster reconstruction (used in Indonesia, for example) are new concepts. However what is relevant for institutions like the World Bank and other developing partners is the ability to link poverty reduction with building disaster and climate resilience for the benefit of the most vulnerable communities who drive the whole process of change. This echoes the key messages of a regional guide on disaster risk management which offers policy-makers a vision and examples of how to build a Strong, Safe, and Resilient East Asia and the Pacific.

Photo credits: Zuzana Stanton-Geddes



Zuzana Stanton-Geddes

Disaster Risk Management Specialist

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