Tuesday, February 14, 2012

'Super Agency' and the little people of Ayudhya

The Cabinet on Tuesday set up a “super body” to “integrate” activities of all 16 government agencies related to water, flood and drought under a “single command.” That’s a big story.
But, to me, a bigger story was out there in the field. On the same day, local villagers in certain Ayudhya’s districts went into a renewed panic mode as a heavy downpour had pushed the water level once again to 30-40 centimeters, raising the specter of last year’s disastrous inundation once again.
The immediate question is: How does a grand, huge structure at the national level pacify the hard-hit local people in all the central provinces? How can the local people have confidence in the government in preventing the recurrence of the 2011 unprecedented flooding?
And will tomorrow’s big party to “thank” those who helped the Flood Relief Operations Center (FROC) fight flood send the wrong message that the highly controversial and ineffective operations by the “central command” at the time should be commended – and repeated?
The gap between the national-level political super-structure and the local community’s genuine concern remains a big issue that has yet to be resolved.
The Cabinet’s decision to form the new super agency is supposed to enhance efficiency and ensure that one single “command” will direct the flood-fighting activities. The new body is called National Water Resources and Flood Policy Committee (NWRFPC). It is headed by the prime minister herself.
The recently-appointed Strategic Committee for Water Resrouces Management (SCWRM) headed by the premier (with Dr Sumet Tantivejjakul as chief adviser) will now become an advisory board.
I am not sure where the other much-heralded committee – Strategic Committee for Reconstruction and Future Development (SCRF) headed by Dr Virabongsa Ramangkura – will be placed under the new structure. I couldn’t find it listed anywhere in the new hierarchical chart.
Under that body is the Water Resources and Flood Management Committee (WRFMC). This will be headed by a deputy prime minister.
Then, there is also the Office of the National Water Resources and Flood Policy Committee (ONWRFPC).
It has been explained to me that the top big body serves like a “board of directors” in a business corporation while the second-tier WRFMC will be playing the role of the “executive committee.”
And the third tier Office of NWRFPC is where all the 16 government agencies relevant to water in one way or another will gather. Obviously, they are supposed to follow instructions from the “executive committee” which will in turn formulate their action plans according to the “policies” laid down by the top super body.
My question from real life here is: Once that new structure is in place, how does the situation in Ayudhya reported last week get resolved?
District Officer Rewat Ampawanond of Amphoe Sena, Ayudhya province, told a local radio station:
“Flood water was about 30-40 centimeters at Tambon Huawiang, Sena District, yesterday although the rainy season hasn’t arrived. That’s because of the unseasonable heavy downpour two days ago. It had nothing to do with water being released from Bhumibol Dam and Chao Phya Dam as had been speculated earlier…”
He said the land of Sena and Pakhai districts in this central province is located in low-lying areas. Local villagers had been adjusting their livelihood to the natural environment, and rice farming was done only once a year. For the remaining seven months of the year, they would turn the farmland into natural water holding reservoirs.
In other words, despite lessons learned from last year’s serious flooding, local people have yet to be sure that the national government is capable of understanding their basic concern – and that any overhaul of the organizational structure would be effective enough to inject confidence all the way to the village level.
The flood victims, old and new, obviously couldn’t care less about how the new and old committees will avoid the confusing chain of command. They want a simple answer to the Bt350,000m question: Can 2012 be flood-free for us?
The litmus test will come soon enough – perhaps in the next few weeks.

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