My Thoughts of Bangkok & Floods (Part 1)

The floods. Me. 27 days in Bangkok. I saw no rain, but the streets and homes were wet from the flood. I experienced the devastating impact of Mother Nature, with mixed emotions: the joy of doing relief work again and the sadness at the raging effects of climate change. The deaths, the displaced, the hunger and the homelessness: Misery was shared by Thais, migrant workers and refugees.

Humanitarian relief work in disaster areas is not a new experience, I have had my fair share of missions in the early 90s. In those days, relief work was challenged by limited resources, poor communication tools, and the inexperience of government agencies and many relief workers in disorganised coordination. At times, there was no "plan of action" but just the urgency of helping led to misadventures and the suffering of others. The delivery of aid took months to execute then, courtesy of stifling bureaucracy and the ever-changing political affiliation. I don't think much has changed nowadays, however many people are more (or claim to be) knowledgeable about their roles in disaster management. Despite the clashes between Thailand's political parties and the blame-game amongst Thais and foreigners, I saw little of the bad practises of the 90s in those 27 days.

I was armed with my wits, smile, a BlackBerry and a borrowed Victorinox black backpack (thanks to my 12-year-old daughter), and within a week I swiftly made friends in Bangkok. My accommodation: settling down in a small, dry BHT500-per-night room, at nights the hotel became somewhat like a brothel, which didn't bother me one bit. There was limited access to clean drinking water and bread however I managed quite well under the circumstances. Though at times, hunger was a constant companion, along with the frustration that came with it. My translator and friend, Moui, played a valuable role in enabling me to understand the situation, her patience and foresight is truly amazing.

Assessing the flood's impact on marginalised and vulnerable communities was my first goal. Communities consisting of the homeless, sex workers, drug users, streetkids and the disabled people. I visited the flooded districts of Bangkok, joined the relief party travelling through the canals via boat and walked to the hundreds of back lanes. I spoke to anyone who was willing to entertain my numerous questions. The interviews and helping with aid distribution came hand-in-hand, laboured for hours. Quite an exhausting exercise. I didn't mind getting my legs wet and sometimes the depth of water was at 4 feet, in fact I enjoyed the adrenaline rush and the excitement of being in an unpredictable and merciless flooded terrain.

To be continued...

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