Thailand at a Glance
Population: 71.6 Million (2022)
Major Threats: Flood, landslide, forest fire, typhoon, drought, lightening, hail and epidemics, tsunami, air pollution
Populations Affected: Poor Farmers, Urban Poor Communities, Coastal Communities
Locations Affected: Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani
Industries Affected: Agriculture, Tourism, Fisheries
Compounding Issues: Urbanization, Environmental Degradation, Climate Change, Agricultural Dependency, Infrastructure Vulnerability, Poverty, and Inequality
World Risk Index Ranking: 23
Global Climate Risk Index: 9 (2021)
Thailand, located at the heart of Southeast Asia, covers an area of 513,120 sq.km. It shares borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia and boasts a diverse coastline stretching 3,219 km along the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The country’s highest point is Doi Inthanon at 2,565 meters, and its lowest point is the Gulf of Thailand at sea level.
Thailand can be divided into four regions: the North, Central (Chao Phraya River Basin), Northeast (Korat Plateau), and South (Southern Peninsula). The northern region is mountainous and prone to water-related disasters like flash floods, landslides, and debris flows. The northeastern region is arid, experiencing flash floods, drought, and cold spells. The central region, known as the “Rice Bowl,” faces riverine floods and urban inundation during the rainy season. The southern region features hilly terrain on the west coast and coastal plains on the east, with occasional flash floods, mudslides, tropical storms, and forest fires.
In December 2004, Thailand was severely affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami, originating off Sumatra Island, resulting in 5,395 casualties, impacting 58,550 people, and causing a total loss of US$ 399.78 million. During the 2011 monsoon season, Thailand experienced extensive flooding from the end of July to mid-January 2012, affecting provinces in Northern, Northeastern, and Central Thailand, including parts of Bangkok. This disaster led to 813 deaths, affected 9.5 million people, and caused USD 40 billion in economic damage.
Typhoon Noru, an intense tropical cyclone, brought heavy rainfall to Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines in September 2022, leading to severe flooding and landslides. In this event, 37 districts across 18 provinces in the North, Northeast, and Central regions were affected, resulting in 4,000 evacuations, 4,348 affected households, and three fatalities.
Continuing heavy rain led to further flooding and rising river levels, prompting warnings for communities near the Chao Phraya River and Pa Sak River. By October 5th, 38 locations, primarily in Northern and Central provinces, had rivers exceeding critical levels. These floods and flash floods affected 25 provinces, impacting around 156,240 households, resulting in four deaths and two injuries.
Major Threats and Economy
Thailand has faced numerous natural disasters since the 21st century began, causing significant human and economic losses. Key threats include floods, droughts, storms, wildfires, and the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis. Flooding is a recurring issue from October to March, disrupting transportation and causing widespread damage. Droughts negatively impact the agricultural sector, particularly rice and sugarcane crops, leading to economic losses. Storms and wildfires cause damage, while earthquakes pose risks to critical infrastructure. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami had significant economic repercussions, particularly on tourism and fishing sectors. Despite a resilient economy, Thailand must remain vigilant and implement effective disaster preparedness and response measures.
Climate Change Impacts
Climate change is exacerbating natural hazards in Thailand, leading to severe storms, floods, and droughts. The agricultural sector is especially vulnerable due to changes in carbon dioxide levels, precipitation, temperature, and water availability. Under a high-emissions scenario by 2050, experts predict agricultural losses of over US$94 billion in farmland value and output alone. Rising sea levels further risk the country, intensifying the impacts of storms and flooding and potentially submerging regions, including Bangkok City, which is situated just 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) above sea level.
Given its geographic location, Thailand has been highly exposed and vulnerable to hydrometeorological disasters, including floods, landslides, storms, and droughts. Major disasters over the past six years include:
- Floods: Frequent and severe, often caused by heavy rains, monsoons, and tropical cyclones. The 2011 Great Flood was particularly catastrophic, affecting millions of households and causing numerous fatalities and extensive economic losses.
- Drought: Characterized by a sharp decrease in rainfall, leading to water shortages, impacting humans, animals, and vegetation. Climate change and long-term weather changes contribute to shorter rainy seasons and prolonged dry periods.
- Landslides: Frequently follow heavy downpours, especially in areas affected by deforestation and cultivation on slopes. Droughts have also reduced water storage in major reservoirs.
- Storms: Atmospheric disturbances with strong winds and rain, causing damage to homes, structures, and loss of life. The extent of damage depends on storm intensity.
Thailand faces severe air pollution, particularly high levels of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers), leading to respiratory and cardiovascular problems. The issue primarily affects Chiangmai and Bangkok, impacting multiple provinces. In 2019, the Royal Thai Government prioritized addressing the haze crisis and implemented a Smog Management Plan, although tangible measures have been limited. In 2023, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration urged businesses to reinitiate “work-from-home” practices, affecting travel and the economy in Chiangmai.
Adaptation and Local Context
Thailand’s disaster management system has evolved over four decades, starting with the Civil Threat Prevention Act in 1979. In 2002, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) was established under the Ministry of Interior to lead Disaster Risk Management (DRM) and disaster response. The Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 prompted further development, leading to the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act (DPM Act 2007) in 2007, supported by regulations and a periodically updated National DRM Plan. Additionally, a network of NGOs, charities, academic institutions, businesses, and community-led efforts play crucial roles in supporting disaster management.
Opportunities and Recommendations to International Donors
Thailand ranks highly vulnerable on the World Risk Index and Global Climate Risk Index, facing various risks from floods, air pollution, landslides, forest fires, wind damage, drought, lightning, hail, epidemics, and tsunamis. International donors can support Thailand’s disaster management by providing technical expertise, financial assistance, knowledge sharing, and fostering cross-border collaboration. Recommendations include tailored approaches, empowering local capacities, prioritizing climate resilience, promoting multi-stakeholder collaboration, ensuring long-term commitment, and implementing robust monitoring.