Geopolitics

Bangkok Is Sinking: Thai Capital Risks Washing Into The Sea

According to many experts, the capital of Thailand is in danger of being submerged by waters. The Thai government does not seem to realize the urgency of the situation.

Bangkok Is Sinking: Thai Capital Risks Washing Into The Sea
Bruno Philip

BANGKOK - Day after day, Bangkok sinks. Inexorably. The most pessimistic experts are afraid part of Thailand's capital will be submerged by 2030. Specialists complain about the absence of any policy in place to prevent a disaster that seems bound to occur.

This looming natural disaster risk will be a central challenge for the new government arriving after the July 3 elections.

Climate change, rising sea level, coastal erosion: a variety of converging factors could lead to the end of the biggest city of the Chao Praya river delta, originally built up after a commitment on April 21, 1782 by the first sovereign of the Chakri dynasty. The family still reigns today.

The city continues to multiply demographically: some 10 million people now live in the center or in the suburbs of this megalopolis. Even the weight of the skyscrapers contributes to the progressive engulfing of Bangkok. The soils descend from 1.5 to 5.3 cm each year, and a big part of the megalopolis is already under sea level.

Sooner or later, the rising sea level will threaten more that 1 million buildings, 90% of which are residential. In the Samunt Prakan harbor, about 15 kilometers away from Bangkok, the suburban houses along the river are already flooded certain months of the year. In a report published by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Bangkok appears on the list of the cities threatened by climate change.

Jan Bojo, a World Bank expert in the Thai capital, says one of the reasons Bangkok is sinking is the abusive pumping of ground waters. But even if they all agree that the situation will get worse within the next few years, experts differ on the causes. Smith Dharmasaroja, head of the National Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters, predicts that in 2100, Bangkok will have become a new "Atlantis." This meteorologist's analysis, as pessimistic as it may sound, is considered credible. In the 1990s he correctly forecast the devastating December 2004 tsunami.

Mr Dharmasaroja claims that the government "has taken no decision yet" to stop the phenomenon. "If nothing is done, Bangkok could be entirely flooded by 2030." One solution he proposed consists in building a huge series of sea walls along the Siam gulf, a project that would cost about 2 billion euros.

Anond Snidyongs, an oceanographer specialized in the impact of climate change in Southeast Asia, is more cautious. He says that: "no one can predict how long it will take for Bangkok to be flooded and how the process will evolve."

Snidyongs thinks the construction of sea walls would be useless. "It is no use trying to prevent coastal erosion from happening. The shore diminishes 3 to 4 cm each year: it's hopeless," says the scientist. "On the other hand, there are many other ways to fight the floods, like, for example, better management of urban building land."

Niramon Kulsrisombat is a town planner and teacher at the architecture department of the prestigious University of Chulalongkorn. She confirms that "floods have always been a natural phenomenon considering that Bangkok is built on muddy soils, only 1.5 meters above sea level."

But before, many "khlongs' (irrigation canals), vegetable gardens and fields absorbed the floods. During the recent urbanization process, many buildings have been built on lands that used to allow the water to drain.

Anond Snidvongs believes the coordination of the different measures will be key to protecting the city: "We must absolutely reach a consensus so that the millions of people who, sooner or later, will be directly affected by the floods, agree on the solutions. This issue is not exclusively a question of techniques or money. We also need the specialists to get their story straight, and to give precise figures that would help imagine what the future might look like."

They can only hope that it is a future where Bangkok is not destined to be the next Atlantis.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Feserc

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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