The worst case? Areas of investigation: Victory Monument

Background
In a country like Thailand where watery and flooding is a common situation throughout history, this year’s floods have come as a real shock. In the last weeks and months some 44 of 77 provinces have been affected, many transformed into vast lakes, entire cities have been sunk, hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes and waiting the water to flow out fast to the sea. In the meantime Bangkok was preparing for the worst with everybody sand-bagging, store shelves emptying while information were spreading that more districts are being inundated by every hour… Bangkok was unprepared for the situation of the approaching water masses.
Against the expectations of the already suffering people and at their cost, walls were erected to slow down and to divert the natural flow of the water to protect the inner city; those defenses have saturated surrounding areas under meters of water. The strategy was to drain and pass the water around Bangkok and to spare the economic and political heartland.However, Bangkok has always been flooded. Geographically it is built on the natural flood plain at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River delta; it is a terrific location for a city, from a point of transportation and defense (historically), but of course a disastrous one in terms of flooding, as it is right on top of the country’s best natural drain! The experience of this year’s floods suggests flooding will return with increased consistency – either from the Northern part and/or the sea – especially in regard of the unpredictable global climate change and the rising sea water level. Even the government already admitted that floods are likely in the next years (Aljazeera, 15 Nov 2011).
Meanwhile, the flood waters receded and the destruction is visible. An estimated total damage summed up to about 1.36 trillion Bath – 1.28 trillion (94%) in private damage and 81.4 billion (6%) to the public sector. The assessment said Thailand would need 755 billion Bath to rehabilitate for a stronger and more resilient economy (Bangkok Post, Nov. 2011). However the estimation said nothing of the costs to the millions of affected families who face long months of unemployment and costs of damage. On the other side life in inner Bangkok with its superior infrastructure remained save. But what will happen in the future? Can Bangkok be spared or protected forever? Considering the facts and the vast area of Bangkok that would need to be protected from approaching water – either from the North or the South – it is hard to believe that one solution can be found. So why not accepting the fact and try to adapt to water, as Thailand used to do in the past? Therefore in memory of the recent incidents and the future prospects, it is the time for Bangkok to pay more attention to water management, to prepare and have plans ready for a likely submerged city. Bangkok, once again is in the center of attention.

The monument was erected in June 1941 to commemorate the Thai “victory” in the Franco-Thai War, a brief conflict waged against the French colonial authorities in Indo- China, which resulted in Thailand annexing some territories in western Cambodia and northern and southern Laos. These were among the territories which the Kingdom of Siam had been forced to cede to France in 1893 and 1904, and patriotic Thais considered them rightfully to belong to Thailand. In fact the fighting between the Thais and the French in December 1940 and January 1941 had been brief and inconclusive. Only 59 Thai troops were killed, and the final territorial settlement was imposed on both parties by Japan, which did not want to see a prolonged war between two regional allies at a time when it was preparing to launch a war of conquest in South East Asia. Thailand’s gains were less than it hoped for, although more than the French wished to concede. Nevertheless the Thai regime of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram decided to celebrate the war as a great victory, and the monument was commissioned, designed and erected within a few months. The monument became an embarrassment in a more political sense in 1945 when the Allied victory in the Pacific War forced Thailand to evacuate the territories it had gained in 1941 and return them to France. Many Thais regard the monument as an inappropriate symbol of militarism and a relic of what they now see as a discredited regime. Nevertheless the monument remains one of Bangkok’s most familiar landmarks.

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