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    Flood aid refusal 'was self defeating'

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    Pat Angko

    Posts : 34
    Join date : 2012-03-29

    Flood aid refusal 'was self defeating'

    Post by Pat Angko on 29th April 2012, 4:01 pm

    Flood aid refusal 'was self defeating'
    Asif Ahmad says that a reluctance to accept assistance _ uncommon among most disaster-hit countries _ as well as poor communication of information to the public hurt efforts to bring relief to those affected by the deluge
    Published: 29/04/2012 at 03:25 AMNewspaper section: Spectrum

    British ambassador Asif Ahmad has offered a forthright critique of the government's handling of last year's flood crisis, saying it should have asked for international help and better communicated information to the public.

    Mr Ahmad said the international community faced difficulties in providing assistance to foreign nationals in Thailand during the flood crisis from July to January, even though asking for foreign help is normal practice during a major crisis.

    "In the immediate period after the flood, the Thai government's policy, which I think remains, was not to ask for international assistance," he said. "It placed us in a slightly difficult situation. Many countries including the US, the UK and Canada have a system where if a country does not ask for help, we cannot open our disaster relief fund to do so," he said in an interview with Spectrum.

    "We hope in the longer term, the government looks at this issue. Countries like Japan during the tsunami asked for help. Australia asked for help when the country was flooded. We would ask for help if we had a national crisis. It's not about whether the country can cope or not, it's a question of drawing in expertise. We have to find ways of offering help that would be acceptable."

    During the floods, the British embassy estimated that 30,000 British tourists and residents, out of an estimated population of 150,000 Britons in the country, would have been affected if the waters had hit central Bangkok.

    Based on the embassy's experiences, Mr Ahmad expressed sympathy for local people, who had also suffered from a shortage of drinking water and unclear communication from government agencies. He added that these problems were multiplied when assessing the difficulties Thai ministries, businesses and organisations had in maintaining operations.

    "The biggest source of help at that time is communication," he said.

    "If one remembers, the government's assessment, it varied from 'Nothing will happen,' to 'You will be underwater.' No one knew about the time and scale.

    "We had our own assessment team to watch the change of tide levels in canals. And we had our own way of double-checking with experts. We had our plan to provide service if the embassy office had to shut down. We had our team at the airport."

    So poor was official information, Mr Ahmad said, that during "normal times 2,000 to 3,000 people access our web page [per day], the figure went up to 40,000 during the flood".

    Despite the lack of an official request for help, the international community did manage to find ways to provide assistance during the floods, Mr Ahmad said. The Dutch government provided flood experts to work with the Flood Relief Operation Centre, while Switzerland sent experts to help the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration with water management.

    "It is a procedural thing. Almost all major donor countries are ready in terms of people, money and access. But we can't rush to a country uninvited because there are practical difficulties," Mr Ahmad said.

    A formal request for help from host countries allows donor nations to be better able to identify needs and proceed with transportation and the more efficient delivery of aid.

    Mr Ahmad suggested that Thailand establish a single body to manage and coordinate relief during natural disasters. Contingency plans also needed to be set up and tested regularly.

    "The crisis here with the flooding would have challenged any government in any country. It was of a huge scale. So if there is one recommendation, it is to review the structure and mechanism. You don't start to design these things in the middle of crisis, but you design it now," he said.

    Despite the shortcomings of the government response and preparedness, Mr Ahmad praised the resilience of the Thai people, in particular, the community spirit in rural areas.

    He also warned that there could be long-term affects on people's mental health, a view echoed by Mark Salter, a consultant in public health strategy (global health), at the UK's Health Protection Agency.

    "Disasters kill people, but they also have long-term consequences," he said. "If people are displaced, loved ones killed and businesses destroyed, you are going to have the mental health issues."

    Dr Salter and several British colleagues recently completed a study of Thai officials' responses to the flood crisis.

    During the flood period from July 29 to Jan 7 there were 815 official deaths, according to the Interior Ministry. The majority were from drowning (671) and electrocution (70). There were no recorded deaths from communicable diseases.

    The provinces with the highest number of fatalities were: Ayutthaya (200), Nakhon Sawan (84), Phichit (53), Lop Buri (47), Suphan Buri (42), Nonthaburi (40) and Nakhon Pathom (38).

    Dr Salter said his agency's primary concern was surveillance and having a contingency plan.

    "If we are able to collect data and information to reduce the harm to individuals and shorten the length of problems arising from the disaster ... we will be able to plan for the future more adequately," Dr Salter said.

    He said Thai health officials have been successful in controlling communicable diseases such as influenza, cholera and dengue and field training was more advanced than in his country.

    However, health officials needed to take into account other illnesses during a natural disaster, such as people suffering from long-term mental and physical problems.

    "They should have a mechanism to identify individuals with long-term chronic disease such as diabetes, asthma or HIV/Aids so that they can have access to their medications."

    Darika Kingnate, director of disease control at the Public Health Ministry, said health officials had focused on the prevention of major disease outbreaks during the flood.

    "We planned to apply a similar system that we had in controlling the outbreak of Sars [severe acute respiratory syndrome], but the flood required another kind of response that [had to be] quicker; and serve other needs," she said.

    "Thailand's performance in delivering medicines to those suffer long-term chronic illness in flooded areas with the help of communities was regarded as satisfactory.

    "But we will need to focus more on issues such as improving people's awareness of turning off electricity supplies in flooded houses or the need for evacuation. We may have to consider issuing laws or measures to force people to evacuate."

    Another issue that needed to be addressed was the provision of power generators for hospitals suffering blackouts brought on by the floods, she said.

    Dr Salter said Thai health officials needed to take on the role of educators in flooded areas.

    "Some education would perhaps reduce the number of the deaths," he said. "To prevent people from drowning, tell them not to go in to the water. Even if you are a strong swimmer, you might be hit by a piece of wood and knocked out," he said.

    "Health officials may encourage people to move upstairs. They may encourage the people to turn off their electricity supply or install electricity detector devices that would shut off automatically. My impression is there are [people using] old-fashioned circuit breakers in other areas that do not turn off automatically. For many hours and days after the flood, there are is a high risk of being electrocuted."

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    At least someone is speaking the truth resulting in a flood of criticism from foreignness here who are obviously gone native as someone said. We all know that attacking the messenger for whatever reason does not lessen the message. What has been said is 100% true however painful it may be for some. Don't play the local card of face, its about honour, speaking and accepting truth. Face is for the neighbours, truth is for ones self. Chapeau Mr Ambassador, someone had to speak out about the farce of this government. We do want to know about 91 death from 2010, why not who was responsible for over 800 deaths and billions of Baht? One official apologised for this man-made flood. Greed was the source, calculate and be honest... for once... rice scheme plus third harvest around the corner, do you math... Sad

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