Thailand Suffers Most Costly Flood in History – 10% of Annual Rice Crop Destroyed

Thailand flood October 2011 (AFP)
This aerial picture shows an under-construction temple surrounded by floodwater outside the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, on October 11, 2011 (photo: AFP)

[Note: headline corrected for accuracy, Oct. 22] As we here in the West watched the television images of storm surges sweeping away picturesque, covered bridges in the northeastern U.S., in the wake of Hurricane Irene, half way around the world, the tropical tourist paradise of Thailand was just entering a  La Niña monsoon season. In terms of agricultural losses, this season would prove to be the most costly such season in history.

Following September’s extremely heavy rains — five feet of rain for the month — the “moderate” monsoon season has continued virtually unabated into this month, where it also coincided, last weekend, with the highest tides of the month.

The additional influx of salt water into agricultural lands will have even more negative impact on crops.  As of mind October, flood waters have  swept through 60 of Thailand’s 77 provinces. Already, the flooding has cost the nation an estimated 4 billion USD in agricultural revenue — more than double the cost of the nation’s 1993 flood, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) .

The present Thailand flood is being called the “most expensive flood in history.”

This monetary amount translates into about 10% of the nation’s rice crop output. As Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of rice, news of continuing damage to the main source of the  world’s rice supply is driving global food prices higher. This will, in turn, threaten the food security of tens of millions, if not more.

satellite images of Thailand Flood, October 2011
Thailand’s Chao Phraya River forms at the confluence of smaller rivers near Nakhon Sawan and flows past Bangkok to the Gulf of Thailand. Flood walls meant to contain the river collapsed in downtown Nakhon Sawan, the Bangkok Post reported on October 11, 2011. The aftermath of the burst flood walls left the city looking like a lake. As rivers overflowed in Thailand, the Tônlé Sab (Tonle Sap) lake in neighboring Cambodia (lower right of images) overflowed. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured these images on October 11, 2011, and October 8, 2010. These images use a combination of visible and infrared light to better distinguish between water and land. Vegetation is green, and clouds are pale blue-green. Water is dark blue. In 2011, water rests on floodplains between Phitsanulok and Nakhon Sawan. Image credit: NASA.

The high tide-enhanced flooding also threatens to breach the sea wall surrounding the nation’s capitol, Bangkok, in central Thailand.

As of the week ending October 13, 4 to 8 inches of rain fell on central Thailand, and up to five more inches of rain were predicted by October 17. The heavy rains are over 40% greater than usual for this time of year. However, such heavy rains are typical for a La Niña year, and this year’s La Niña is considered to be “weak”.

The rains have also been influenced by warming coastal waters (.3° C above average) which puts more water vapor into the air, and, by Tropical Storm Haitang and Typhoon Nesat, both of which brought heavy rains to the region in late September.

Neighboring nations Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos have also been impacted by the flooding, with over 200  killed so far.

With meteorologists predicting a “double dip” La Niña season (i.e., a repeat), continued flooding in southeast Asia, and especially of Thailand’s agricultural lands, can only intensify the global food price/food security issue.

Source material for this article came from the article: Thailand Suffers Most Expensive Flood in History, Destroying More Than 10% of Rice Farms in World’s Top Exporter (by Joe Romm)

CORRECTION: The original headline (second part) for this story read: “10% of worlds rice crop destroyed”. This was an error. The estimates are that 10% of Thailand’s rice crop has been destroyed, not 10% of the world’s rice crop; Thailand is the world’s leading exporter of rice (corrected Oct. 18, 2011)

top photo: The Atlantic / AFP

2 thoughts on “Thailand Suffers Most Costly Flood in History – 10% of Annual Rice Crop Destroyed”

  1. Check your headline.

    “Thailand Suffers Most Expensive Flood in History, Destroying More Than 10% of Rice Farms in World’s Top Exporter” =/= “Thailand Suffers Most Costly Flood in History – 10% of World’s Rice Crop Destroyed”

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