Thai Flood Toll Rises to 59; Bangkok’s Defenses Hold

Thailand said the death toll from weeks of flooding across 36 provinces rose to 59, as Bangkok escaped major damage after bolstering the city’s defenses.

Floods have affected at least 3.2 million people and damaged 3.5 million rai (1.4 million acres) of agricultural land, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said today. Heavy rain may cause flash floods and landslides in 15 southern provinces before the end of the month, the agency said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who called the floods the worst in 50 years, pledged to give 5,000 baht ($167) to families in the worst-hit areas as part of a 2.9 billion baht special budget. The finance ministry today cut its forecast for economic growth this year to 7.4 percent from 7.6 percent, and said the disaster may cause as much as 20.2 billion baht of damage.

Floodwaters receded in 11 provinces, leaving 25 still inundated, the disaster prevention department said. The death toll since Oct. 10 rose to 59, according to the Emergency Medical Institution of Thailand.

Bangkok experienced only minor flooding along the Chao Phraya river as the city’s 77-kilometer-long flood-protection system held, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said. Authorities are looking at ways to drain water away from the capital before a period of high tides starts on Nov. 8.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who stopped in Bangkok yesterday on a four-nation tour, expressed his “deep profound sympathy” to the flood victims.

Cyclones, Monsoon Rains

“It is a stark reminder of the reality of climate change,” Ban told reporters in Bangkok, adding that he discussed with Abhisit ways the UN could work with Southeast Asian nations to address global warming.

Cyclones and heavier-than-normal monsoon rains deluged parts of Southeast Asia this month, killing hundreds of people and affecting millions in key rice-producing regions. More than 84 people were killed in Myanmar when Tropical Cyclone Giri lashed the country’s west coast at the weekend, the Irrawaddy reported yesterday, citing local residents.

Indonesia’s capital Jakarta was paralyzed earlier this week as heavy rain submerged streets and railways, leading to gridlock on the city’s roads.

A longer-than-usual rainy season in Indonesia caused by the La Nina weather phenomenon has led to flooding on Java, the most populated island, and provinces such as Papua, where more than 100 people were killed this month in flash floods.

Rain has also hampered efforts to rescue survivors from a tsunami that slammed into the Mentawai islands off Indonesia’s Sumatra two days ago, following a 7.5-magnitude earthquake.

Rice Crop Damaged

In Thailand, the world’s biggest rice exporter, a government agency warned that production from the country’s main rice crop this year may fall 6.5 percent, squeezing supply and driving prices higher.

Damage from flooding may cut gross domestic product by 1 percentage point in the fourth quarter and by 0.24 percentage point for the full year, Kasikorn Research Center said in a statement yesterday.

The floods may curb economic growth by as much as 0.2 percentage point this year, the Finance Ministry’s Fiscal Policy Office said in a statement today. Economic ministers will meet on Nov. 1 to discuss the effect of the disaster, Abhisit said.

The floods have become a risk factor for the economy, and will be taken into account at the Bank of Thailand’s next meeting on monetary policy, Bank of Thailand Deputy Governor Atchana Waiquamdee told reporters in Bangkok today.

“We don’t know the impact yet,” Atchana said. “The crop may be damaged, but the rising prices may partially help offset the drop in farm income.”

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