Rapid Growth and Recent Floods Prompt Phuket’s Push for Autonomy

Roads and houses in Phuket were flooded after heavy rain and mountain runoff on June 30, 2024.

PHUKET — The latest flash floods in Phuket on June 30 have sparked debates about the rapid growth of the city and the resulting clogging of sewage systems, along with the question:  Is it time for prosperous Phuket to become a Special Administrative Region?

Currently in Thailand, there are two administrative zones that are special forms of local government organizations: Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Pattaya City.

Mr. Rewat Areerob, the President of Phuket Provincial Administrative Organization (PAO), stated that Phuket is a major tourist city. He believes that it is time to decentralize power and let Phuket elect its own governor so that the locals can manage their own affairs like in Bangkok. He pointed out that the enormous tax revenue from tourism, which amounts to over 400 billion baht ($10.9 billion) annually, is not being adequately reinvested in the province.

At present, the rapid growth of Phuket city has outpaced existing laws and infrastructure management, including government agencies’ water management plans.


Existing plans from various government agencies need to be revised to adapt to the changing cityscape and take account of global climate changes, such as increasing rainfall.


“In the past, when it rained, we had areas that absorbed the water, so heavy rainfall was not a problem. But now these areas have been converted into housing projects and condominiums, so the absorption areas have become smaller. The government can not keep up. Earlier this year, Phuket faced drought problems, so we were forced to buy water for consumption, but now we are experiencing flooding,” Mr. Rewat said.

City needs revised Master Plan

Mr. Rewat added that government agencies need to plan and install more drainage pipes or pathways to accommodate housing estates and condominiums. At the same time, more water retention areas should be established to store water for dry spells by utilizing existing public lands. New roads, drainage channels, etc. also need to be built.

Flood and drought problems require the attention and intervention of the national government as they involve multiple agencies. Immediate action is needed and local authorities should be empowered to deal with the situation.

Two Move Forward Party MPs from Phuket, Mr. Chalermpong Saengdee and Mr. Thitikan Thitipruettikul, similarly stated that they have observed various problems in urban management and water management that are not aligned. This has led to the construction of buildings, houses, and roads without proper study of waterways or planning for effective drainage systems, despite Phuket being a government target for economic development.

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This aerial photo taken on October 1, 2020 shows a row of hotels on Patong beach in Phuket.  (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

They believe that if the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation were directly under local administration, with its own budget and full management authority, it would be able to handle immediate situations better than the current setup.”

Phongrat Phiromrat, Director General of the Department of Public Works and Physical Planning, said that to address the problems in Phuket, it is necessary to revise the master plan that the ministry prepared in 2016-2018. This master plan was aimed at flood control in urban areas and needs to be revised to ensure it takes into account new flood-prone areas created by the city’s rapid expansion, which has led to bottlenecks and obstructions in watercourses.

“The bottleneck problems in many areas of Phuket are due to the past, when there were fewer surrounding structures and the existing channels could handle the water flow well. Overflowing water could spread to adjacent areas that were uninhabited and did not cause problems. But now that there are houses, buildings and communities, the canals can no longer handle the overflow and the communities are affected,” he said.

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Roads and houses in Phuket were flooded after heavy rain and mountain runoff on June 30, 2024.

Growth and Rain

According to AREA Company’s real estate market survey in Phuket in Q1/2024, 54 billion baht was invested in new projects, including both low-rise houses and condominiums. There are currently 500 active projects on the island with a total value of 470 billion baht ($14.8 billion).

This is a higher value for project development than in the pre-COVID-19 period. Of these, a total of 72,000 units are for sale, of which 62,000 units have been sold and 10,000 units are still pending.

On July 3, Mr. Surasee Kitti Kittimonthon, Secretary-General of the Office of National Water Resources (ONWR), issued a warning that on July 7, the lower southern region, especially Phuket province, is likely to experience heavy rainfall.

He has coordinated with the Department of Mineral Resources to be cautious about water-saturated soil in the area following the heavy rain and flooding from the past week. If rain continues, there is a risk of landslides.



Related article:

Phuket’s Changing Landscape Contributes to Flood Challenges, Says Governor