BANGKOK — Four days into a massive flooding crisis that has killed 11 across much of the country, prime minister and junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday he would visit the affected region.
Following criticism his government has been slow to take action and indifferent to the suffering, Prayuth told reporters at Government House today that he has been waiting for the right time to go himself.
“I have planned it since the first day of the flood, but I had to consult with related agencies first, including the Cabinet,” Gen. Prayuth said after his weekly Cabinet meeting. “Because if I visited the area [without preparation], it would be chaos.”
On Monday the government approved an emergency fund of 35 million baht to assist flood victims as officials struggle to contain the situation and provide assistance in a crisis which has now claimed 11 lives.
The fund approved includes 50,000 baht payouts to families of the deceased, according to deputy Prime Minister Omsin Chivapruek, along with compensation for homes damaged or destroyed.
The latest known fatality took place Monday in Roi Et province – one of 19 provinces severely affected by what is believed to be the worst flood in decades – where officials say a 73-year-old man drowned.
By Tuesday noon, several dykes had breached in Roi Et province and large swaths of farmland had flooded. A road that connects Roi Et with Yasothorn was also partially flooded by the afternoon. Local residents and officials fear the flood may escalate during the next several days.
Although provinces in the north and central areas are impacted by flooding, the northeastern region of Isaan appears hardest hit, according to the director of the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.
“The most affected area is the northeastern region, followed by the central, the lower northern and the southern regions,” Arnon Sanitwong na Ayutthaya told reporters Tuesday. He added that the flood has spread to an area of 3 million rai (480,000 hectares).
The severity of flooding took many by surprise when it struck the province of Sakon Nakhon on Friday, after rainstorms brought by tropical storm Sonca caused a breach in a reservoir there. Much of the city remained flooded by Tuesday afternoon.
Among those who voiced their criticism at the perceived haphazard response to the flood is transparency activist Srisuwan Janya, who questioned why local disaster prevention agencies did not issue a timely warning.
Since those agencies failed to do their duty, they should be abolished so their budget should be distributed to the flood victims, Srisuwan said Tuesday.
He also said the government could have started handing out assistance much earlier because each provincial authority can withdraw up to 70 million baht from the central budget to spend on flood relief.
Speaking Tuesday, junta chairman Prayuth blamed the flood on unpredictable weather conditions and said officials should learn from the latest crisis.
When a reporter asked Prayuth to compare his administration’s response to the ongoing flood to that of the previous administration during massive flooding in 2011, the general said a comparison was inappropriate.
“They are different issues,” Prayuth said. “I don’t want to disrespect anyone because I was involved in both events … Don’t go back to the past. Let’s talk about the present. Give it the best.”
His comment struck a relatively conciliatory tone compared to his spokesman, Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who alleged the previous government mishandled relief operations during the flood of 2011.