Spotlight on Bangkok: Flooding Puts Urban Planning Under Pressure

The monsoon rains wreaking havoc across Thailand have brought the longer-term planning challenges of its capital city, Bangkok, into sharp relief. Severe flooding has affected millions of homes and businesses in the city. But even as the waters begin to recede, there remains a difficult set of choices for the city as it confronts its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change – and role that rapid development has played in exacerbating these risks.  

Aggressive groundwater pumping to meet the needs of Bangkok’s 12 million inhabitants is causing the city to sink slowly into the swamp upon which it was originally built; even with government efforts to control the trend, subsidence is occurring at a rate of between 1 and 3cm per year.  At the same time, experts expect sea levels in the Gulf of Thailand to rise by 19 to 29 centimeters by 2050 due to global warming. As the AFP reports:

Faced with the combined threats of land subsidence and rising temperatures and sea levels, the World Bank has predicted that Bangkok's flood risk will increase four-fold from now by 2050.

And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has classified the Thai capital among the 10 cities in the world facing the biggest potential impact from coastal flooding by 2070.

In fact, the issue is so pressing that the future of the city itself has recently been called into question: a proposal was introduced in the Thai Parliament to consider moving the nation’s capital to another location. Although this proposal has been tabled, the urgent need to adapt urban infrastructure in the face of increasing natural threats remains, not only for Bangkok but also for other major cities around the world.

To read more about risk assessment and water management, check out the CDP Cities Global Report 2011.