UN underscores readiness to assist South-East Asian countries hit by floods

A villager manoeuvres through floodwater in Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok, Thailand

18 October 2011 – The United Nations today voiced deep concern over the devastating floods in Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam and offered to assist the affected countries to respond to the disaster that has claimed hundreds of lives and caused heavy damage to property and infrastructure.

Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters in Geneva that a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team was on standby to deploy in the stricken countries if requested.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) offered support to the Thai Government to deal with the floods that have killed more than 280 people and affected more than two million since July. More than 80 per cent of the country’s 76 provinces have been affected, and in excess of 900 industrial plants and farmland inundated.

The UN has been in regular contact with the authorities, including the Thai Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, and has been monitoring the humanitarian and development impacts of the floods.

According to the country’s irrigation authorities, 11 out of the 26 major dams in Thailand currently hold more water than their established capacity, while others are between 82 and 99 per cent full and the excess water needs to be released, which must in turn necessitate more evacuations of people downstream.

UNDP has boosted its capacity to assist the people of Thailand, setting aside both financial and technical emergency resources, and will continue to work with the Government to support the country’s longer-term recovery and rehabilitation.

At the weekend, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, warned that the flood disaster in South-East Asia could worsen with river levels still rising and heavy rainfall forecast.

Some 700 lives have been lost in Cambodia and Thailand, while in Laos, the Philippines and Viet Nam, homes, crops and vital infrastructure have been destroyed. Millions of people living in low-lying areas remain vulnerable to further destruction, Ms. Amos said.

Also voicing concern over the loss of life and livelihoods as a result of the floods was Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

“The historical floods continue to cause a humanitarian crisis in the region. Please be assured that the United Nations stands in solidarity with the victims of the catastrophic floods,” said Dr. Heyzer said in a message.

“Disasters pose a significant challenge to the realization of inclusive and sustainable development in Asia. With nearly one third of the world’s population living in Asia Pacific, addressing the causes of vulnerability to disasters is critical to protecting peoples of Asia.”

In a related development, Myanmar intends to adopt a disaster risk reduction plan that was drawn up following Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, said after a series of meetings with officials there during her four-day meeting to the country.

“It was a very useful visit and it is clear from out meetings that with senior Government officials that lessons have been learned from Cyclone Nargis two years ago and a considerable effort is being made to put those lessons into practice,” said Ms. Wahlström.


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UN relief chief voices concern over flood disaster in South-East Asia

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