Bangkok: Living with Floods

by James Mannarino

A climate risk assessment (Mehrotra et al., 2009) of the water sector in Bangkok shows reason for concern as climate change likely brings changes in the rainfall pattern of monsoon season, which will combine with the internal characteristics of the city that limit rainfall absorption. Since mid-October, monsoons have caused the worst flooding in Bangkok in over 50 years. As much as 4 million acres are inundated and nearly 500 people have died as a direct result of these events. Thailand’s economy has also suffered, the total cost of damages is estimated to be about $17 billion, and the central bank has cut economic growth estimates for the year from 4.1% to 2.6%.

Bangkok is dependent on the mass amounts of water provided during monsoon season. A system of dams, reservoirs, sluice gates and canals to the north of the city generate electricity and provide irrigation and drinking water. However, to provide space for these dams, as well as residential, agricultural and industrial land-use, vast swaths of forest and wetland were eradicated. In the past, these forests and wetlands greatly mitigated the effects of monsoon flooding by absorbing much of the water that flowed down from the mountains north of the city. While the dams provide essential services to Bangkok, they are essentially a man-made replacement of the protections that these ecosystems provided.

Bangkok is the most economically vibrant city in the Indochina region, primarily due to foreign investment in manufacturing centers in the metropolitan area. However, the 2011 floods have displaced hundreds of thousands of workers and rendered many factories inoperable for months, which is a key driver of the reduction in economic growth forecasts mentioned above. It is obvious that industries in Bangkok are vulnerable to monsoon flooding, which will likely become more frequent and extreme as the planet warms and the climate continues to change. It is therefore within the realm of possibility that foreign companies will rethink manufacturing operations in Bangkok, which would have sweeping effects on Thailand’s economy. This also has significant implications for other coastal and flood-prone areas such as Bangladesh and Mumbai that rely on and/or hope to attract similar foreign investment. What remains to be seen is whether the Thai government will address this risk adequately and if a man-made system can effectively replace and utilize ecosystems to achieve economic growth and sustainability.



Mehrotra, S., C.E. Natenzon, A. Omojola, R. Folorunsho, J. Gilbride & C. Rosenzweig. (2009). Framework for city climate risk assessment. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Photos were provided by EPSM student Fah Suteerachai, a native of Bangkok.