Sinking Bangkok - floods a precursor

2011-11-07 16:21

Bangkok - The Thai capital, built on swampland, is slowly sinking and the floods currently besieging Bangkok could be merely a foretaste of a grim future as climate change makes its impact felt, experts say.

The low-lying metropolis lies just 30km north of the Gulf of Thailand, where various experts forecast sea level will rise by 19 to 29cm by 2050 as a result of global warming.

Water levels would also increase in Bangkok's main Chao Phraya river, which already overflows regularly.

If no action is taken to protect the city, "in 50 years... most of Bangkok will be below sea level," said Anond Snidvongs, a climate change expert at the capital's Chulalongkorn University.

But global warming is not the only threat. The capital's gradual sinking has also been blamed on years of aggressive groundwater extraction to meet the growing needs of the city's factories and its 12 million inhabitants.

As a result Bangkok was sinking by 10cm a year in the late 1970s, according to a study published last year by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan Bank for International Co-operation.

That rate has since dropped to less than 1cm annually, they said, thanks to government measures to control groundwater pumping.

If those efforts continued, the report authors said, they hoped the subsidence rate could slow by another 10% each year.

But Anond disputed their projections, saying Bangkok was still sinking at "an alarming rate" of 1 to 3cm per year.

Sinking feeling

While scientists may argue over the exact figures, they agree about what lies in store for the sprawling megacity.

"There is no going back. The city is not going to rise again," said the ADB's lead climate change specialist David McCauley.

Faced with the combined threats of land subsidence and rising temperatures and sea levels, the World Bank has predicted that Bangkok's flood risk will increase four-fold from now by 2050.

And the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has classified the Thai capital among the 10 cities in the world facing the biggest potential impact from coastal flooding by 2070.

For now, Bangkok is relying on a complex system of dykes, canals, locks and pumping stations to keep the rising waters at bay.

The flood protection efforts, however, failed to prevent an onslaught of run-off water from the north from swamping at least one-fifth of the capital.

The murky floodwaters, triggered by three months of heavy monsoon rains, are edging in on Bangkok's glitzy downtown area, threatening luxury hotels, office buildings and shopping malls.

Rapid urbanisation is one reason why the inundations are affecting the sprawling city so badly, according to experts.

As the area that needs flood protection gets larger and more built-up, the water "has fewer places to go", said Francois Molle, a water management expert at France's Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement.

Move the city

Molle said that in the long term, Bangkok would eventually be under water. "The only question is when."

Experts say Thai authorities must address the capital's land use and planning challenges and consider relocating factories or industrial parks in flood-prone areas.

Or even moving the entire city.

"It may be appropriate for the people who want to be dry 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to be setting up a new city," said Anond.

"We do have areas where we can develop a new city that would be completely dry. There's a lot of land in this country," he said.

It may sound like a drastic scenario, but there is little doubt that Bangkok will have to act if it wants to avoid the fate of the fabled sunken city of Atlantis.

"To remain where it is, the city will need better protection," said Robert Nicholls, a professor of coastal engineering at Britain's University of Southampton.

He said he expected Bangkok's current flood misery to "trigger massive investment in defences over the next 10 to 20 years".

Dealing with the phenomenon will be expensive elsewhere too. Across the Asia-Pacific region the ADB has estimated it will cost a minimum of $10bn a year to adapt to climate change.

  • robbie.crouch - 2011-11-07 16:35

    So... a sinking city is caused by climate change! The mind boggles at the thought process that came to such a stupid conclusion!

  • Paul - 2011-11-07 17:27

    CO2 climate science has done to science, journalism and progressivism what nasty priests did for religion. Nice job. Help! There is an Exxon oil exec holding a gun to my head and telling me what to think. CO2 Greens of this insanity of climate blame are too yellow to admit they are red. They condemn billions to the Greenhouse Gas Chambers just to make the kids turn out the lights more often and expect this fear will make the kids be more environmentally aware. CO2 Greens don't love the planet; they hate humanity judging by their constant fear mongering and crisis crying. Climate changers are the real neocons. REAL planet lovers are relieved 25 years of CO2 science was a consultant's wetdream and exaggeration. REAL planet lovers are happy our children have been spared from the worst disaster imaginable; climate crisis. History has a special place for you omen worshipers of climate blame crisis. Let's all work together to address the issues of pollution and energy without the CO2 mistake as a factor at all in the entire environmental equation.

  • Paul - 2011-11-07 17:30

    You climate change fear mongers don't love the planet, you hate humanity as you condemn my kids to the greenhouse gas chambers like neocons. POLLUTION IS REAL, DEATH BY CO2 IS NOT. Be real planet lovers and not wish for this misery to have been true. History will not be kind to Greenzis of fear.

  • Win - 2011-11-07 18:57

    Why not discuss turning "a vice into a virtue" by becoming a second famous Venice? The Venice of the Far East ... will be immune to floods and the like. I know, this sounds flippant and fascetious, but is it really?? It may be the only longterm solution in any case.

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