Focusing the analysis on institutional changes and river-based flood events during the last two decades, the paper explores ways of reducing the risks of flood disasters in ways that do not further disadvantage already socially vulnerable groups. Documents and reports were reviewed. In addition, interviews and field observations on site after flood events were carried out.
There are indications of improved institutional performance of the government in the areas of relief and emergency, the formation of the flood disaster emergency committee at the outset of the monsoon season in flood prone areas, and initial efforts to involve communities in flood prevention and mitigation. Several institutionalized incapacities, however, continue to undermine the provision of assistance and services that would reduce the risk of flood disaster. Poor coordination across administrative bodies and line agencies results in fragmented flood mitigation and prevention intervention measures. Flood disaster victims are left alone to fend themselves especially in remote areas due to incomplete implementation, poor follow up, and structural biases. Many problems are aggravated by the absence of monitoring and evaluation of state agency’s performance. Social mobilization on flood management may be necessary to re-enable these institutions to perform the roles in society for which they were intended – reducing vulnerabilities and risks of flood disasters.
The capacity of households, communities and nation-states to live or cope with floods and to adapt to changes in flood regimes wrought by their own and others’ development activities depends on many factors. Economic factors, like the dependence or vulnerability of livelihoods on seasonal flooding, and the level of financial resources of a household or state to undertake structural measures or cope with and recover from losses are undoubtedly important. Ecological factors, like the extent of riparian vegetation and natural or human-modified flood plain habitat or level of sediments and other debris in floodwaters affect immediate impacts and longer-term ecological services, such as soil productivity and water quality. Social and cultural factors, likewise, are critical. Institutions such as formal insurance mechanisms, community and kin-based safety nets are important in recovery. Policies, programmes and procedures that assign responsibilities and roles, coordinate collective action and decide and allocate budgets for infrastructure investments in prevention, mitigation and emergency relief may make the difference between a flood and a flood disaster. Dysfunctional or perverse institutional arrangements may increase vulnerabilities to floods and risks of flood-related disasters.
Seasonal flooding is a regular feature of the Monsoon climate and flood plain landscapes of Thailand. Most of the major cities in Thailand, including historical and current capitals of Kingdoms, like Chiang Mai, Ayutthaya and Bangkok, have been built on the foundations of rice-growing civilizations in major flood plains. Communities where livelihoods depend on a seasonal cycles of flood have learnt to live with floods and embrace its arrival with songs and dances. Institutions and cultural practices around the management of floods are persistent and have survived for centuries.
Why should floods suddenly become a problem? The answer is that, over the last few decades, industrialization and the