06 November 2012

Children affected by Thailand’s worst flooding speak out about their experiences

Story by Nattha Keenapan/ Video by Jingjai N.

(The story was published in the Bangkok Post on November 8, 2012)

LOPBURI, Thailand - Natthasit Muangsawang, 11, is familiar with flooding, as his home  is  inundated almost every year during the rainy season. But after  the massive floods of 2011 swept away his books, desk, toys  and other belongings, he was given a chance to speak out about his own experience during the floods for the first time.

“I was bored (during the floods) as I couldn’t  go out of the house,” said Natthasit, whose house in the central province of Lopburi was under  more than two-metres of flood water  for several weeks. “I wanted to tell adults not to pressure us too much. We were already stressed out because of the floods.”

Natthasit took part in the Voices of  Children: Attitudes and Opinions of Children and Youth regarding Disaster Response and Preparedness research project, which gathered the views of some 500 children affected by the 2011 flooding in  in Lopburi, Ayutthaya and Bangkok.  The research, conducted from March to July 2012 by the Raks Thai Foundation with support from UNICEF, used  drawing and painting, story-telling, group discussions and in-depth interviews to capture the experiences of children eight to 18 years old during the floods. The research also covered the children’s assessment of the emergency response to the floods, and their ideas on how preparedness for future floods and other emergencies can be improved.

“Children are vulnerable and often excluded from decision making, especially in times of emergencies and during response to natural disasters,” said Andrew Claypole, Chief of Social Policy for UNICEF Thailand. “This research is aimed at promoting children’s participation and ensuring that their voices are heard and their needs are taken into account.”

Thailand experiences flooding every year as a result of monsoon rains, but the 2011 floods were the worst in some 70 years. The floods took the lives of more than 680 people, including 103 children, mainly due to drowning. The floods also caused damage and losses estimated at US$45.5 billion.

Almost every child that took part in the research said they were bored during the floods and that authorities should organize some activities for them. Many children said they played in the water even though they could not swim. Poor hygiene and sanitation were also among common issues raised by the children, many of whom had to urinate into the water and defacte into bags as there were not toliets  available.

“I wanted a mobile toilet as it can float to other houses too,” said Arunee Wannapanich, 18, a Grade 12 student from Ayutthaya, which was among the hardest-hit provinces.

Tannatporn Panyam, 17, Arunee’s classmate, lived in an evacuation centre in Ayutthaya Province during the flooding. Although there were toilets at the centre, Tannatporn said she wished there had been separate facilities for males and females.

“I didn’t dare to take a shower as there were lots of male teenagers hanging around the toilets watching me,” Tannatporn said. “I had to wait until night time when those boys were gone so I could take a shower.”

UNICEF’s Claypole said he hoped that the children’s views will help influence national policy both during an emergency and in emergency preparedness planning. The research findings were  presented at a national seminar in Bangkok on November 5 involving representatives of relevant central and local government, the private sector, non-government organizations, the UN,  academics and media, and over 80 children, including some of the research participants.

“I want adults to listen to children’s voices,” Natthasit said.

By Nattha Keenapan

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