Asit K Biswas
Special to The Nation January 25, 2012 1:00 am
During the last year, many Asian countries have witnessed flooding, including Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Laos, North Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. The economic damage has varied significantly - minor in Singapore but very substantial in Thailand. The floods have once again brought the twin issues of disaster management and development to centre stage. With climate change and its effects expected to increase the magnitude of water-related disasters, it is important to rethink why some of the current flood disasters turned out to be unmanageable, with unprecedented human and material losses. Flooding is older than humankind, and water, whether in excess or in scarcity, has always been of concern to humans, going back to the biblical tale of Noah's Ark. Important civilisations emerged on the banks of major rivers like the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates and the Ganges-Brahmaputra, for the availability of water and fertile soils assuring plentiful food. With the Industrial Revolution and urbanisation, the emergence of cities became an important trend. However, living on riverbanks leads to problems. Historically, for Asia, floods have been a regular and integral component in the life. Because Thailand's recent floods inflicted such social, economic and environmental costs, it is necessary to reflect on the problems and lessons learnt, so that the situation is not repeated in Thailand or other Asian countries. Bangkok is built on the banks of the Chao Phraya, and its existence is intimately linked with the river. The city benefitted from the river, its fertile delta and its port, and has emerged as an important economic and commercial hub. Experience taught the people of Thailand a resilience that should be saluted. Traditional houses were located at the edges of canals and were constructed on wooden...