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Thai PM Warns Flood Impact to Last Three Months

Ben Bland in Bangkok

Thailand’s prime minister has warned that it will take the country three months to recover from the worst floods in decades, even though the capital’s central districts have thus far escaped being inundated.

Flood waters surround an industrial complex October 20, 2011 in the neighboring provinces of Bangkok, Thailand.
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Large swathes of Thailand are still under water as efforts to divert huge volumes of water away from Bangkok during Monday’s peak tides proved largely successful.

Yingluck Shinawatra, prime minister, said: “We expect after the water recedes that the industrial estates will recover within three months if we can release the water and recover the machinery quickly.”

Pichai Naripthaphan, energy minister, said the government would allocate 100 billion baht ($3.22 billion) to help rebuild key industrial estates and 800 billion baht to revamp the country’s water management system, which failed to protect vast swathes of northern and central Thailand from the surge.

The Thai government had warned that the whole of Bangkok, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the nation’s economic output, could be inundated between Saturday and Monday when a high tide in the city’s main Chao Phraya river slowed the run-off from the worst floods to hit Thailand in 50 years.

On a visit to badly flooded areas in the north of the city, Korn Chatikavanij, former finance minister and a member of the opposition Democrat party, said that while it was too early to “count our chickens”, the situation appeared to be stabilising.

“There’s still a very big body of water on our northern border, but so long as the [flood] barriers aren’t breached, we should be OK,” he told the Financial Times.

But the Thai Red Cross and other aid organisations have warned that the flood waters may not drain away for weeks, increasing the risk that water-borne and insect-borne diseases could spread.

Nearly 400 people have been killed by the flooding in the country since July, when heavy monsoon rains began pounding the region.

More than 1,000 factories have been closed, leading to global shortages of hard-disk drives and car parts. A quarter of the rice crop has also been destroyed in the world’s biggest rice-exporting nation.

Honda on Monday withdrew its earnings guidance for this financial year and reported a sharp fall in quarterly profit, after the floods forced it to shut a car factory that produces 5 per cent of its global output.

The Thai central bank last week slashed its gross domestic product growth forecast for this year to 2.6 per cent from 4.1 per cent and warned that output could be downgraded again.

While the heart of Bangkok was largely spared, conditions in the north and west of the city remained bleak, with a number of districts submerged in a metre or more of increasingly dirty water and many people running short of food and drinking water.

Several minor scuffles broke out between police and residents who wanted to knock down hastily constructed dykes that were protecting the city centre but causing flood waters to accumulate in their neighbourhoods.

The floods have provided the first big test for Ms Yingluck, a political novice who became Thailand’s first female prime minister in August.

She has faced increasing criticism over the perceived lack of co-ordination in her government’s response to the disaster.

- Additional reporting by Jonathan Soble in Tokyo