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Posts from the ‘Floods 2011’ Category

After the Floods, Plans for Factories in Isaan

2012 February 17
by The Isaan Record

When the mobile cabinet meeting rolls into Udon Thani on February 21, Withoon Kamonlnaruemet, the president of the Khon Kaen branch of the Federation of Thai Industries, is prepared to woo cabinet members with a presentation. Mr. Withoon and a committee headed by Khon Kaen Governor Sombat Triwatsuwan plan to request a 50 million baht appropriation to conduct a feasibility study and create the blueprints for Northeastern Thailand’s first industrial estate.  

“Khon Kaen has all the favorable conditions to attract investors here. We are a hub in the Northeast for logistics, education, and health care. And we have golf,” Mr. Withoon said.

If Mr. Withoon’s presentation is as well received as he expects, thousands of jobs will be created in new Khon Kaen factories. However, it is not yet clear whether Northeastern laborers, long the backbone of Central Thailand’s industrial workforce, would follow investors back home to Isaan.

Heavy industry is not entirely foreign to Khon Kaen. Government policies have promoted the decentralization of industrial development for more than four decades. While most heavy industry remains concentrated in Greater Bangkok and along the Eastern Seaboard, Khon Kaen boasts fifteen large industrial factories.

Yet despite decentralization policies intended to increase the incomes of workers in the Northeast, the manufacturing divisions of at least half of Khon Kaen’s large industrial factories are still staffed with Burmese laborers. “The fish net factories, the garment factories and the shoe factories,” Mr. Withoon explained, listing three of Khon Kaen’s five major areas of industrial concentration, “are mostly staffed with foreigners”.

Indeed a Ministry of Labor official, who wished to remain anonymous, is skeptical that a Northeastern industrial estate would offer wages that Isaan workers would find attractive. “The investors who move operations, will their decision be related to the 300 baht minimum wage policy?” she questioned.

Under the revised 300 baht policy scheduled to go into effect on April 1, the 300 baht per day minimum wage will only apply to Bangkok and six other provinces. Though Khon Kaen’s minimum wage will see a 40% increase to 234 baht per day, it will remain significantly below Bangkok’s.

While it is too soon to ascertain if the proposed industrial estate will draw Northeastern labor back home, the estate’s development seems relatively certain. “The probability is about 70%,” Mr. Withoon predicted. He attributes the high likelihood to the 2011 floods which severely disrupted production and brought billions of baht in damage to factories in Central Thailand. “Businessmen are not in a position to take on any more risk,” Mr. Withoon explained, “and the government hasn’t come forward with a short-term plan or a long-term plan to deal with the threat of flooding. So, an industrial estate in the Northeast is looking pretty good to investors.”


Fishing Without a Net: Fish Farms and the 2011 Floods

2011 December 16
by The Isaan Record

YouTube Version

KHON KAEN – This year’s floods ravaged much of Thailand, leaving over 600 dead and millions displaced. In the Northeast, farmers everywhere are beginning to clean up destroyed crops and prepare for the next harvest season. But while millions of rice farmers await their flood insurance from the government, 2,200 baht per rai of rice field, the hundreds of thousands of fish farmers in the region are not as lucky. With little support from government agencies, only modest discounts offered to them by corporate distributors, and no organizations that offer fish farming insurance, fish farmers are faced with the task of rebuilding their small farms and repurchasing fish on their own. Here in Khon Kaen province, nearly 9,000 fish farms claimed flood damages. None can collect on insurance.

The video above takes a look at the flooding of Tawatchai Farm in Khon Kaen, just one of half a million freshwater fish farms in the country. To learn more about its story, click play.

NEWS IN BRIEF: Khon Kaen’s Brewery Keeps Singha Afloat

2011 November 15
by The Isaan Record

KHON KAEN – As floodwaters continue to threaten parts of Thailand’s capital, the emergency closure of many large water manufacturing sites in the Central region has sparked widespread concern. The Singha Corporation, for one, which estimates a hold of 35% on the domestic water market, has been forced to close four of its seven factories, leaving sites open only in Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, and Surat Thani.

In recent weeks, demand for potable water has skyrocketed and those who can afford to are hoarding supplies. But the remaining three Singha factories have launched a donation scheme of their own as they try to help to ensure a suitable supply.

“One of our labeling companies sunk, but the Singha CEO told us that if we can’t produce water [with Singha labels] for sale then we should produce unlabeled water for donation,” said Methee Suthat Na Ayutthaya, the manager of Khon Kaen’s Singha brewery. Currently, all 1.5 liter bottles of water manufactured in Singha factories are unlabeled and shipped off as flood relief. Singha has pledged 100 million baht of free water for flood victims and has distributed water worth nearly 70 million baht to date. This year, however, they have decided to manage their own relief efforts.

“In the past, we donated water to government agencies, but it rarely got through to the people. We have to do it ourselves,” Mr. Methee said. “You have to understand that this is how things work in Thailand.” Singha is donating free water throughout the Northeast, Ayutthaya, Bangkok and its environs.

In addition to producing bottled water, Singha has also hired over 100 residents of five nearby villages to produce EM balls made partially from the factory’s waste bacteria and extra molasses. Some believe that these “effective microorganism” water cleansers reduce odor, pollution, and clogging of floodwater, but little research has been done to prove their efficacy. Singha has produced 200 tons of EM balls in the past few weeks.

Though Mr. Methee is confident that the supply of bottled water in Thailand should remain sufficient, he is less sure about the supply of beer. Khon Kaen Brewery is the only Singha factory still producing beer, and it is only bottling Leo Beer. Singha Beer, the company’s more expensive brand, is currently on hold until December.

Khon Kaen’s Flooded Commend Relief Efforts

2011 October 27
by The Isaan Record

KHON KAEN – From sunup until sundown Phongsak Chonchee rides a boat across an unfamiliar landscape. As a subdistrict officer in Khon Kaen’s flooded Chonnabot district, Mr. Phongsak and his assistant have taken responsibility for the 315 families stranded in the middle of the swollen Nong Kong Kaew Lake. Since September 27, he’s been ferrying food, aid-workers and schoolchildren back and forth, counting down the days until the floodwaters recede and Mai Si Wilai village’s roads re-emerge.

Though Bangkok is still waiting for the floodwaters to crest, the worst has come and gone in the Northeast. In Khon Kaen, Mr. Phongsak is just a small piece of the numerous flood relief programs underway throughout the province. Government offices, temples, schools, universities, hospitals, and innumerable private citizens have stepped in to offer assistance to the nearly 45,000 displaced people in Khon Kaen.

A Thammayut Nikai monk from Mahamakut University and a KKU student give supplies to villagers in Chonnabot's Mai Si Wilai village.

In Phra Lap municipality, on the outskirts of Khon Kaen city, over 700 displaced residents of Phra Kheu village are now calling the shoulder of a provincial highway home. And so far, they say, the relief efforts have been quite helpful.

“Since the disaster started, many people have been trying to help and that’s the best we can hope for,” village headman Sadet Namueangjan said from a folding chair beneath one of a few dozen tents lining the roadside. “We are luckier than others because we stay on the highway and people who pass by see us and bring us food.”

In addition to the informal support from generous motorists, Phra Kheu has benefited from numerous donations from local temples, daily food deliveries from the municipality, and regular visits from doctors and nurses from Khon Kaen city hospitals. These medical teams perform routine check-ups, distribute medicine, and provide massages free of charge.

“The province asked us to do this on our budget and told us they would pay us back later, but they didn’t say when or how much,” Dr. Rujiralak Phrommueang, the head of Khon Kaen Hospital’s Social Medicine Department said. “But [our doctors] come back happy from these services so we’re pleased to help the people who are facing such problems.”

Early on in their relocation, Mr. Sadet, Phra Kheu’s village leader, began a letter-writing campaign in the hopes of receiving as much assistance as possible. One such letter went to the President of Khon Kaen University (KKU) and in less than a week 250 food boxes had appeared at the village tents, courtesy of KKU.

A representative from the Office of the President of KKU said that these food boxes represent just a fraction of the aid they have been providing throughout the region. Students from KKU’s engineering, agriculture, and medical faculties have volunteered to assist in rebuilding damaged farming equipment, to advise villagers about paddy reclamation, and to perform medical checkups. A University-wide donation campaign has generated close to 1 million baht in donations.

Behind the scenes of these relief efforts, the Khon Kaen office of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has been seeing that relief goes to the right places. As they collect information on flood-affected areas in the province, they guide interest groups in deciding where to offer services.

Though the department is satisfied with short-term aid efforts thus far, its leaders also recognize the difficulties facing their operations in the long run.

“For one thing, each provincial office [of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation] is allocated 50 million baht and that isn’t fair,” said Suphornrat Saengmasi, the head of the department. “Khon Kaen, for example, has many districts and a much larger population than many other provinces.” After petitioning the main office in Bangkok, the Khon Kaen branch was granted an extra 50 million baht this year and has spent over 80 million baht to date.

An outhouse supplied by Phra Lap municipality floats in front of a Phra Kheu villager's home.

“I think we still lack many things,” she explained. “We need better boats and we’re lacking toilets. It would have been better if Bangkok had provided us with these flooding supplies before the floods occurred. That’s why we call this department ‘prevention’.”

Indeed, Dr. Rujiralak from Khon Kaen Hospital echoed Ms. Suphornrat’s concerns, indicating the health risks that stem from a lack of necessary supplies. “Many of the hospital workers are concerned that there aren’t nearly enough public toilets. The villagers are probably relieving themselves anywhere they want and that will spread diseases.” Hospital volunteers are currently conducting water tests in flood-affected areas throughout the province to further analyze this risk.

As aid workers of varying expertise continue to offer their help and their suggestions for the future, most flood-affected villagers in the Northeast seem focused on one goal.

“The main problem is that we need finances to replant our rice. We want the government to help us rebuild our careers,” Chonnabot’s Samrit Saiwanwang said.  “Forget about this harvest season. We need to look ahead to the next.” The floods have destroyed close to 350,000 rai of land in Khon Kaen province alone.

Floodwaters in the Northeast are expected to recede significantly in late November.