Businesses Press For Flood Plans

Monday 27th February 2012 | Bangkok Post | Link

The government is racing against time to put in place flood prevention devices at industrial estates before the rainy season arrives.

The business sector is demanding authorities focus on sustainable solutions rather than short-term floodwall construction, which is placing the government under added pressure.

Last year's floods affected 64 out of 77 provinces in Thailand, with total damage of about 1.4 trillion baht.

The World Bank announced it was the globe's fourth costliest disaster of 2011.

Industry Minister Pongsvas Svasti told a forum held by the Bangkok Post last Thursday that businesses located in industrial estates are recovering well.

A total of 838 businesses were flooded last year. The amount of flood-hit businesses which have resumed activity has increased from 23% at the end of last month, to 29% earlier this month, and 40% in the middle of this month.

He projected that 50-60% of the businesses will be operational within the first quarter of this year and 80% within the third quarter.

"Some businesses that use complicated technology in their production such as the micro electronics, hard disk drives and semiconductor sectors, need a long time to import their machinery from overseas," MR Pongsvas said. "It takes six to eight months for the semiconductor sector."

The cabinet this month approved 4.8 billion baht in funding for building floodwalls in six industrial estates in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani provinces, which were badly damaged by the massive floods.

The biggest chunk, worth 2.23 billion baht, will go to Rojana Industrial Park, where a 77km long floodwall is being built; while 728 million baht will go to Bang Pa-in, and 700 million baht to Navanakorn.

Chalitrat Chandrubeksa, spokesman for the industry ministry, said dyke construction is proceeding fastest in Bang Pa-in, where the work is due for completion in July.

MR Pongsvas said flood prevention systems for all six industrial estates will be completed by August.

While some use concrete floodwalls, others such as Navanakorn and Bang Kadi use concrete sheet piles.

Factoryland industrial park in Ayutthaya, meanwhile, will increase the height and reinforce the strength of its existing wall.

The Industry Ministry has set out to categorise industrial estates into low, medium and high-risk flood zones.

The high-risk group comprises seven industrial estates (Saha Rattana Nakorn, Bang Pa-in, Hi-Tech, Rojana, Factoryland, Navanakorn and Bang Kadi), while medium-risk ones include Lat Krabang and Bang Chan in Bangkok, and the low-risk estates include Bangpu and Samut Sakhon.

"Bang Chan [industrial estate] is not big enough for permanent dykes, so there are technical issues that we need to solve," MR Pongsvas said.

Apart from government-sponsored floodwalls, the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand is also readying a flood prevention plan for industrial estates.

The plan, worth nearly 500 million baht, includes dyke construction and installation of concrete sheet piles at the Bangpu and Bang Phli industrial estates in Samut Prakan, and the Lat Krabang (Bangkok) and Samut Sakhon industrial estates.

Electrical and Electronics Institute president Somboon Hotrakool, meanwhile, urged the government to work out measures to help factories outside industrial estates.

"The measures such as funding for concrete dykes are provided only for businesses inside the estates. We want government help for those outside [the estates] too," he said.

At least 400 factories situated outside industrial estates in the affected provinces are vulnerable to flooding.

Nandor von der Luehe, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, said foreign business operators welcomed the government's establishment of a single unit command under the prime minister for managing the flood recovery.

"We strongly believe that with harmonised policies we will not see a recurrence of last year's disaster," he said.

"But we question the decision to build dykes around industrial estates, which should be the last resort."

Andrew Durieux, director of Coverage Ltd, said dyke construction should be a short-term measure.

Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap said the floods resulted in 20,699 workers being laid off.

Setsuo Iuchi, president of the Japan External Trade Organisation, said while many companies cannot resume operations, demand for labour is increasing as most Japanese firms want to continue investing here.