Thailand braces for storms, but severe floods unlikely
Author: Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat
Thailand can expect a few tropical cyclones that may bring heavy rain and flash floods in August and September, but it is unlikely to see a repeat of the deluge that killed more than 800 people and devastated the economy over several months in 2011, government officials said on Thursday.
Last year's floods, the worst in 50 years, were caused by exceptionally heavy rain and the mismanagement of dams in the north. Better infrastructure and reservoirs with spare capacity could help prevent major flooding this year, the officials said.
"At this stage, we can say that we won't face the severe floods we had last year," said Anont Sanitwong na Ayutthaya, a member of the government-run Commission of Water and Flood Management.
The Irrigation Department said in a statement it had discharged around half of the water in major reservoirs in the north to free up capacity in case of heavy rain.
After the floods, the government set aside 300 billion baht ($9.5 billion) to build water-management and flood-prevention infrastructure.
That includes dams and dykes in low-lying parts of the central region aimed at preventing industrial zones from being flooded, Anont said.
The government has also prepared approximately 192,000 hectares of land to catch any water spilling down from the north and prevent Bangkok and its industrial areas from becoming inundated again.
Cyclones could bring heavy rain and trigger flash floods in the north and northeast, said Somchai Baimuang, deputy chief of the Meteorological Department.
"However, major reservoirs up there still have capacity to hold more water, which will prevent it from pouring down to flood central areas," he added.
SUGAR TO BENEFIT
Heavy rain could benefit the sugar crop by raising sugar content and yields over the next few months, but it may cut rubber supplies slightly, which would help efforts by the government to push up prices.
Thailand is the world's top rubber exporter and the second-biggest exporter of sugar.
The Office of the Cane and Sugar Board (OCSB) has forecast a sugar output of 10.2 million metric tons (11.24 million tons) to 10.3 million metric tons from the 2012/13 crop. The crushing season normally starts in November and runs through April.
"If the coming heavy rains provide abundant water for the cane, we could see our cane production hit a record again this year," said a senior official at the OCSB.
Cane output last year was 99 million metric tons, yielding a record 10.2 million metric tons of sugar.
Rubber trees were not expected to suffer too much this year but supply was likely to decline as the rain disrupts tapping over the next couple of months.
The northeast accounts for around 30 percent of Thailand's annual rubber production of 3.2 million metric tons.
On Thursday, the government announced plans to cut rubber supply and restrict exports, in coordination with Indonesia and Malaysia, in order to stem a sharp fall in prices. The three countries account for 70 percent of global production.
($1 = 31.5500 Thai baht)
(Editing by Alan Raybould and Miral Fahmy)