Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Bangkok's radical answers to global warming - Will the Thai government build an "Aqua City" off Bangkok's shores? -

Bangkok's radical answers to global warming - Will the Thai government build an "Aqua City" off Bangkok's shores? - 

For years, Thailand’s top disaster guru has sounded an apocalyptic warning: the sea is rising, Bangkok is sinking and the coastal metropolis will sit under five feet of water by 2030.

The only bulwark against this scenario is a $2.8 billion dyke sealing off Bangkok from the sea, so goes the refrain of Smith Dharmasaroja, head of Thailand’s National Disaster Warning Center.

But a plan to do just that, elevated from obscurity by Thailand’s new government, is getting creamed by environmentalists, experts and fishermen alike. Even Smith, who has pushed the idea on politicians for years, believes the plan’s latest incarnation is mostly fantasy.

“Impossible,” he said. “The plan has to be abandoned.”

Elected last month, Thailand’s ruling Pheu Thai party ran on promises to erect an 18-mile long seawall to save Bangkok from flooding. That proposal, and its drastic effects on the environment, are controversial enough.

But the party is pairing the dam plan with a vow to pull off an extremely ambitious engineering feat: erecting a modern “new city” behind the seawall.

“We don’t have to save money to build the dam and fill in the sea,” according to a policy brief from the party. “We’ll get 300-square kilometers (115 square miles) of new land” that can be developed and sold at a profit. “We could have various city centers, industries that don’t have to pollute in a city that considers the environment.”

The seawall, Smith said, is still Bangkok’s only salvation. “I’m still worried about the 16 million people in Bangkok, where roads will be covered with water, where hospitals will be flooded, where tourists won’t be able to come.”

But a futuristic city rising from the gulf? “It won’t work,” he said. “Under the water, it’s all soft mud. You can’t build anything on that.”

There are precedents, however, for both fending off the sea and reclaiming land. The Netherlands, perhaps the world’s premier dam builders, have erected complicated dykes to spare low-lying Amsterdam.

The oil-rich United Arab Emirates has expanded territory by creating entire islands in the Persian Gulf. In nearby Singapore, the tiny, affluent city-state grows its territory by dumping tons of sand on its shoreline.

But environmentalists insist that there’s no feasible way to set buildings atop the foundation of soupy muck off Bangkok’s coast.

Nothing short of a huge, reinforced platform built above the sea would suffice, said Anond Snidvongs, director of the Southeast Asia Regional Research Center. “That’s if you want that area completely dry all the time, no matter the tide.”


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