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Misery lingers for Bangkok's 'forgotten' flood victims
by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) Nov 27, 2011

When the floods came, water gushed into Arunee Ninkaew's Bangkok home through the pipes and through gaps in the tiled floor. A month later it is still there, now a putrid grey breeding ground for insects.

Weeks of living above the stagnant, foul-smelling floodwater, crammed into a single upstairs room with her diabetic husband, elderly mother-in-law and grandson, have left her in despair.

Arunee said she wakes every morning with the same feeling of hopelessness: "I think to myself 'When? When will the water go?'"

Thailand's worst floods in half a century devastated vast areas of the kingdom and have left more than 600 people dead. They are receding in many areas, but for people in some of the capital's suburbs, the misery continues.

The streets around Arunee's home in the northern district of Don Mueang are still under a metre of green water, its surface strewn with floating rubbish and glistening with petrol. The only way to get around is by boat.

Local people say they have been forgotten by authorities preoccupied with saving the shopping malls and skyscrapers of downtown Bangkok.

As the floods swept south towards the capital following months of heavy monsoon rains, huge flood barriers made of giant sandbags were erected to keep the waters away from the city's commercial districts.

This tactic kept the centre dry, but at a cost: the walls have held the waters back in northern and western areas, keeping them flooded since October.

Life in the city centre has largely returned to normal since it became clear that it was likely to escape the waters. Streets are bustling and the thousands of sandbags brought in to protect buildings are looking ever more redundant.

But anger in the flooded suburbs is growing, and there are now daily media reports of protests and people opening breaches in the sandbag wall to try to let the waters drain away.

"I watch the news until I'm almost out of my mind. I see in the city that it's almost dry and here nobody comes and sees how high the water is. The government never cares and doesn't look after us," Arunee told AFP at her flooded home.

The stench in the ground floor was overpowering -- sour and acrid, the smell of dirty water that has stood motionless in tropical heat for a month.

In places its matt grey surface seethed with insect larvae. Lizards scuttled up the mouldy walls in the darkness and there were clouds of mosquitoes everywhere.

Arunee, her arms covered in insect bites, said she had expected some flooding, but not on such a scale.

"We never expected it to be this much and we never expected it to be this long. We have really suffered. It's really hard. We can't go anywhere," she said.

The 48-year-old used to make a living selling groceries and snacks but she has not been able to work since the floods came, and her husband and mother-in-law have not even left the house.

Instead they survive on money sent by her son and pass the time as best they can in the small first-floor room, sleeping and watching TV.

Nearly 42,000 people are living in evacuation shelters around Bangkok, but many people stayed in their homes. Arunee said that of the 400 or so houses on her estate, 20 are still occupied.

Her neighbour Anuroj Jaisaard said the floods were the worst he had known in more than 20 years of living in Don Mueang, and he was shocked the disaster could have reached such a scale in a land used to monsoon rains and annual inundations.

"I don't want to talk about politics because if I start I won't stop," he told AFP, while fishing from the first floor of his house.

"But this is not a normal situation. This is not natural. Someone has to take responsibility for this -- someone has to take the blame."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has declared central Bangkok safe from the floods, but Arunee urged her to do more.

"I want her to help so that the poor people can go back to work. It's bad to be like this and it's not good that nobody helps. We have been forgotten. This village has been forgotten," she said.

The government has begun pumping water away from some of the worst-affected areas of the city.

Defence minister General Yutthasak Sasiprapa said he was confident the floods would be gone before the end of the year and urged people to be patient.

But for Arunee and her neighbours, the possibility of yet another month under water is likely to test their forbearance to the limit.

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Thai minister hit by no confidence motion over floods
Bangkok (AFP) Nov 27, 2011 - Thailand's justice minister was forced Sunday to defend himself against a no confidence motion after the opposition alleged official flood relief work had been plagued by corruption and mismanagement.

As director of the government's Flood Relief Operation Command, justice minister Pracha Promnok was responsible for overseeing nationwide relief efforts in the wake of Thailand's worst floods in half a century.

The floods devastated vast areas of the kingdom and have left more than 600 people dead.

Pracha's work was grossly inadequate, said opposition Democrat Party lawmaker Jurin Laksanavisit, who claimed that both the state's flood aid budget and private donations had been embezzled by ruling party officials.

"The widespread floods were not only caused by nature, but also by a failure of the Flood Relief Operation Command to deal with the situation," Jurin told parliament.

Another Democrat Party lawmaker, Apirak Kosayothin said the government's appointment choices were squarely to blame for what he called a lacklustre response to the crisis.

"The government has not arranged for the appropriate people to be in key jobs, which has caused the assistance for flood-affected people to be very slow and inefficient," he told parliament.

Pracha defended his record and denied the corruption allegations, telling parliament that ruling Puea Thai lawmakers had worked tirelessly to help their constituents during the floods.

The no confidence vote is expected be held Monday, ahead of the last day of the current parliamentary session on Tuesday.

The motion also took aim at a reported royal pardon for fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Jurin saying the opposition could no longer trust the justice minister after "the cabinet secretly passed the royal pardon plan which we believe was meant to help one person".

The government last week ruled out a royal pardon for Thaksin, who lives abroad to escape a jail term for corruption, after strong criticism from opponents to a reported draft decree.

Royal pardons, which usually exclude convicts found guilty of drug offences and corruption and those who have not spent time in prison, are granted each year on King Bhumibol Adulyadej's birthday on December 5.

Local media had claimed that this year's decree would be expanded to apply to "convicts who are at least 60 years old and are sentenced to under three years in jail".

Thaksin, who was ousted by the army in a 2006 coup, is 62 and lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a two-year sentence for graft.

Pracha said there had been no wrongdoing regarding this year's royal pardon and that he had "no hidden agenda to benefit any specific people".

Reports of the pardon came at a delicate time for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is Thaksin's younger sister and widely considered his political proxy, as she also faces criticism for her handling of devastating floods.


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