Monday, October 31, 2011

Thais hope flooded factories back up in 3 months

BANGKOK, Oct 31: Thailand hopes industrial estates swamped in the country's worst floods in half a century can be up and running again within three months, the prime minister said on Monday, as the centre of the capital finally appeared to have escaped inundation.

Nearly 400 people have been killed in months of floods, the lives of more than two million disrupted, economic growth has been set back and global supply chains for Thai-made computer and auto parts thrown into disarray.

But central Bangkok, protected by a network of dikes and sandbag walls, appeared to have escaped the deluge with peak tides on the Chao Phraya river due to pass on Monday and clear weather setting in.

Bangkok's 12 million people account for 41 percent of Thailand's gross domestic product so its flooding would severely compound the disaster.

But while the city centre remained dry with business mostly as usual, many neighbourhoods on the wrong side of the protective ring, especially to the north and west of the centre, have been swamped by deep, fetid flows.

Provinces just north of Bangkok, in particular Pathun Thani and Ayutthaya, have been largely inundated for weeks.

Seven industrial estates that have sprung up over the last decade or two on what used to be the central plain's rice fields have been overcome by water flowing down the Chao Phraya basin.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a political novice who took over this year after an election that many Thais hoped would heal deep divisions, said it should take three months to rehabilitate the industrial estates.

"We expect after the water recedes the industrial estates will recover within three months if we can release the water and recover the machinery quickly," Yingluck told reporters.

Thailand is the second-largest exporter of computer hard drives and global prices are rising because of a flood-related shortage of major components used in personal computers.


The president of South Korea's Samsung Electronics said on the weekend he expected Thailand's floods to hit the computer memory chip market further by hurting PC production until the first quarter of next year.

Japan's Honda Motor Co may keep its Thai factory shut for about six months which would hit 3 percent of its annual global car output, the Nikkei business daily reported on Sunday.

The government expects the recovery will cost 900 billion baht ($30 billion), including 100 billion baht for the rehabilitation of industrial estates and 800 billion for an over-haul of the water-management system, the Nation newspaper reported.

The Bank of Thailand has nearly halved its projection of economic growth this year to 2.6 percent from July's 4.1 percent estimate, and said the economy -- Southeast Asia's second largest -- would shrink by 1.9 percent in the December quarter from the previous three months due to the floods.

The floods have submerged four million acres (1.6 million hectares), or roughly the size of Kuwait, and follow unusually heavy monsoon rain.

But the danger is far from over with the run-off still flowing down from the north and swamping new neighbourhoods as fears of disease grows.

People living in Thonburi, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, have been struggling in waist-deep water for days, as have those in suburbs and provinces to the north of Bangkok.

As anger in some communities grows, Yingluck assured flood victims in a Facebook message that they would be taken care of.

As well as a growing risk of diarrhoea and mosquito-borne diseases, skin infections area a major problem, aid officials say.

In some areas, crocodiles have escaped from flooded farms and snakes searching for dry land have slithered into homes. - Reuters

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