Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand, spent the week touring provinces badly hit by last year’s flooding. Photo: Pravit Rojanaphruk
Speaking in Ayutthaya this week as part of a World Heritage Site celebration, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra expressed confidence that this year’s flood prevention plan will guard against a repeat of the 2011 floods that shuttered hundreds of factories and damaged 158 historic monuments.
Ayutthaya’s city hall was the final stop on Ms. Yingluck’s five-day tour across areas hit hardest by last year’s flooding. She announced on Friday that the government has approved a budget of 4.98 billion baht (around $162 million) to implement 117 new “flagship” water management and flood prevention projects. Around 240,000 hectares of land have been set aside as water catchment areas, which the prime minister said should store nearly 5 billion cubic meters of water.
“Water must have a place to stay and a place to go,” Ms. Yingluck said, citing the Strategic Committee for Water Resources Management’s master plan. “People should be taken care of, communities and key economic areas — as well as ancient sites — should be protected, while farmlands, water retaining areas and floodways need to be treated fairly and appropriately.”
Around 775 million baht ($25 million) has been allocated to the country’s Fine Arts Department for repairing and strengthening ancient sites in Ayutthaya, Sing Buri, Angthong and Saraburi. Culture Minister Sukumol Kunplome recently estimated that the flood damage over six weeks was comparable to the accumulated water erosion damage sustained over centuries at the Historic City of Ayutthaya, which was restored 30 years ago and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Chaiwattanaram Temple at the flooded Historic City of Ayutthaya on October 11, 2011. Photo: Christophe Archambault/Getty
A recent report in the Bangkok Post detailed the rebound in tourism to Ayutthaya’s monuments. Somchai Chompoonoi, Executive Director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Central Region, described the resurgence by saying: “With all the clean-up and promotion campaigns, tourists have returned and a number of hotels have been fully booked. We are very happy. Before the flooding, people felt Ayutthaya was always there for them to visit at anytime. After, more people have come to temples there even without festivals.”
The article also described efforts by local community members to protect the temples before and during last year’s flood. At Wan Phananchoeng, monks, villagers, border patrol police and volunteers built a 600-meter-long, five-meter-high dyke using about 400,000 sandbags, covered with canvas sheets and fostered with concrete piles and soil. Water pumps were operated around the clock to pump excess water out of the temple grounds. As a result, the temple remained safe even as the floodwater in the surrounding areas rose more than two meters.
With 284 factories still closed and some 162,552 people out of work, Thailand’s tourism industry has become an increasingly important part of the country’s economy. Rehabilitating damaged sites, reinforcing standing ones, and focusing on flood prevention measures — as Ms. Yingluck promises — will be crucial to the continued resurgence and long-term success of Thailand’s tourism industry.
Click here to see more than 200 photos of the Historic City of Ayutthaya (post-flood) on Global Heritage Network