United Nations launches initiative to plug ‘gaps’ in Thai disaster management

PHUKET: Marking nearly one year ago since floodwaters inundated most of Thailand and its capital Bangkok, the Royal Thai Government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) launched a new initiative today to boost the capacity of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation (DDPM) to be able to respond to large-scale floods and other natural disasters.

The DDPM is the central agency in Thailand responsible for coordinating disaster response and disaster risk reduction. Its Phuket office features frequently in the news, particularly during monsoon season floods and in the days before and after tsunami drills and tower tests.

“This partnership with UNDP is an opportunity to enhance the level of knowledge and the disaster management capacity of Thailand to acceptable international standards,” said Bangkok-based Wiboon Sanguanpong, Director-General of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

“Disaster severity is increasing and is impacting Thailand to a much greater extent. Department staff and the organization as a whole need to learn new knowledge and skills to deal with the increasing complexity.”

The three-year initiative will strengthen the capacity of the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation to adapt to disasters when they occur, by boosting the institutional capacity of both the Department and related line ministries to be better prepared to address climate change and environmental security issues.

The DDPM is a relatively new agency in Thailand, and during the 2011 floods there were capacity gaps in their ability to address duties and responsibilities under the law.

The $1.2 million initiative’s main goal is to reduce the vulnerability of the millions of people affected in 2011 to future flooding. The 2011 floods were unprecedented. One-fifth of the Southeast Asian nation was inundated with water, including the city of Bangkok. The floods claimed almost a thousand lives, and affected more than 3 million households, or 11 million people in 64 of Thai provinces.

In assessing Thailand’s flood response, UNDP and DDPM discovered a number of challenges to Thailand’s disaster management system. Few anticipated a flood of that magnitude and existing policies did not have the capacity to assist in a range of rescue and recovery operations. Further, post-disaster needs assessments could have been better conducted to understand Thailand’s recovery needs.

But challenges are also opportunities for improvements. Thailand examined its policies related to disaster preparedness after the 2004 tsunami, and is doing so again. The UNDP has been working on the ground with the DDPM for nearly a year with technical experts stationed at DDPM offices to give on the spot advice.

Two UNDP experts, one international and one Thai expert evaluated Thailand’s Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act, the National Disaster and Mitigation Plan, and the Strategic National Action Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction and assessed capacity gaps in order to design this new initiative.

“This is a partnership as much as it is a project signing. The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has been involved from the project’s conception and their plans for implementation are exceptional,” said Luc Stevens, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Thailand.

“The trust that UNDP has built with the Department over the last several months are evidence of two agencies working in concert.”

Stevens said that the partnership puts UNDP in a unique position to provide support Thailand, a middle-income country, of which UNDP is a recognized expert and provider of quality technical assistance and knowledge management services on early recovery and disaster risk reduction.

Thailand ranks as the seventh most flood prone country in the world. By 2030, economic impacts from climate change are projected to place Thailand as the fourth most affected country in the world after the United States, Russia and Japan.

Phuket News

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