December 12, 2014
Two JICA projects related to water and flooding in Thailand have been recognized with the JICA President Award in 2014. The models created are expected to apply to disaster management throughout the world.
Because of Thailand's geographical feature of having a very wide area of floodplain with a huge area of river basin, when there is a flood the waters spread out extensively for long periods of time, causing great damage.
Floods in 2011 made the Thai government realize there was strong demand from ordinary residents and private companies for flood warning information to prevent or minimize flood damage.
The Integrated Study Project on Hydro-Meteorological Prediction and Adaptation to Climate Change that was already underway and the Project on Comprehensive Flood Management Plan for the Chao Phraya River Basin, which JICA began in response to requests from the Thai government after the floods, each yielded its own results. However, through synergy between the two projects, they created models applicable both to disaster management in Thailand and in other countries.
The two projects were among seven named to receive the award on Oct. 21.
Flooding in 2011 caused damage in extensive areas in Thailand.
From May to October 2011 four tropical storms associated with record rainfall hit Thailand and prolonged flooding caused damage to areas including Bangkok and industrial parks in Ayutthaya. Approximately 800 lives were lost, and the total cost of damages rose to around 1.44 trillion Thai Baht (around 3.6 trillion yen), according to World Bank estimates. Operations had to be suspended in many plants, including those of around 450 Japanese companies, and related supply chain disruption shocked the world economy, including Japan.
The Thai government responded in many ways, such as by establishing new committees related to the flooding, engaging in anti-flood work and recovery activities and preparing a budget for comprehensive countermeasures. It also asked Japan for assistance in the areas of a flood countermeasure master plan, disaster reduction management and reconstruction assistance. The agreement to undertake the Project on Comprehensive Flood Management Plan for the Chao Phraya River Basin was signed in January 2012.
The project aimed to establish comprehensive flood management in the Chao Phraya River Basin for sustainable development. It also sought to mitigate damage around the Chao Phraya River, including Bangkok, and other important areas such as industrial parks in case floods on the same scale as 2011 occurred again.
The project's achievements included clarifying the complicated mechanism of river runoff overflow and inundation, and it succeeding in making a comprehensive plan of flood mitigation measures with one-third of the cost estimated based on the original Thai government plan. It also completed a unique flood inundation forecasting system with new analytical models providing the public with real-time flood inundation forecast information seven days in advance. This kind of flood forecasting system would be difficult to apply to geographic conditions and circumstances like those of Japan, so a system like that used in Japan could not be used. Also, technological difficulties meant no suitable system existed in the world, so one had to be developed from scratch applying Japanese technology. Using this kind of system makes it possible for companies to revise their production control and supply chain plans in advance and to move their equipment and machinery to safe place. It also allows farmers to harvest their crops before the disaster and let livestock escape, and it allows residents to prepare sandbags and other countermeasures early.
The project meets the needs of the private sector as well as other government sectors because flood forecasting information was one of the important issues and requests from the private sector for a timely response in case of flooding.
By involving the Thai government staff and academia in discussions and attempting to achieve the best mix of technology from the experiences of Thailand and Japan, the fruits of the project would become the property of the Thai government itself.
Integrated system server for water circulation at the Climate Change Data Center at Kasetsart University
This, however, was not the first involvement JICA had in flood management in Thailand.
With water demand increasing and climate change threatening to increase the severity of floods and droughts and cause land use changes, in 2008 the Thai government asked JICA for help developing a system to provide information on the water cycle and water resources that could be used to plan water management and to predict disasters a few hours ahead.
“The integrated Study Project on Hydro-Meteorological Prediction and Adaptation to Climate Change” aimed to establish a support system for resolving water-related issues caused by climate change. The agreement to undertake the project was signed in March 2009.
The project's achievements extended to the 2011 Chao Phraya River flood when an emergency survey of flooding in the river basin was conducted as part of the project and used to help plan for adaptation to the flooding.
The accomplishments also include the creation of a system for accumulating observational data and integrating it with water resource management models. Also, in January 2014, an integrated system for hydrological information, incorporating the hydro-meteorological monitoring systems developed as part of the project, was launched.
The models developed in this project can be applied to countries other than Thailand if the hydro-meteorological data is utilized. Not only when managing rivers, but also when formulating urban development plans, it is important to take into consideration the effects of climate change. This model was developed taking into consideration not only natural conditions but also the human activities of land use and water use when predicting the effects of climate change, and it is expected to be put to effective use.
Interaction and technology transfers among young Japanese researchers and researchers and officers of local Thai educational institutions and administrative agencies are carried out energetically as part of the project, and they contribute to the sustainability of the project and to cooperation between Japanese and Thai universities.
Models and simulation methods developed in the project are also used in everyday business by the executing agencies, and at the same time a draft adaptation policy for climate change and a decision making support system were implemented as part of the project. The project also developed the aforementioned flood overflow prediction system in cooperation with the Project on Comprehensive Flood Management Plan for the Chao Phraya River Basin.
So that these models and techniques will actually be used by recipient countries, cooperation is thought necessary with both development partners and executing agencies. To operate the system developed, it is essential to accumulate reliable hydro-meteorological information from the recipient country. Through the projects, awareness was heightened of the importance of accumulating information on the executing agency side.
And the project was carried out with emphasis on how they would influence the counterpart universities and government agencies and how the content of their research would be implemented in society. A big achievement of the projects is that it not only created research, but through government agencies actually created something that was put to good use in people's lives.