Friday, October 14, 2011

Asia Floods Take Heavy Toll on Local Economies

A man stands on a flooded pier at Memorial bridge, along the Chao Praya river, in Bangkok, October 14, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

October 14, 2011
Ron Corben | Bangkok
Voice of America

Floodwaters in central Thailand have inundated industrial parks and manufacturing centers, adding to the mounting economic costs of the disaster. Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos are also continuing to tally the cost of heavy flooding that has claimed hundreds of lives.

Economists fear Thailand's most severe floods in decades may cost the country $5 billion and reduce its gross domestic product by about one percent.

The economic toll is already being felt in the country's industrial heartland, where floods breached the walls of major industrial estates. The damage has shut Honda and Toyota automobile assembly plants that account for about seven percent of their combined global production.

More water is expected in the country's manufacturing center as well as the capital, Bangkok. Together the industrial areas produce nearly one-half of Thailand's national output.

Bhichit Rattakul is executive director of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center. Bhichit says floods may take up to two months to disperse, with the main body of water still to reach outer Bangkok.

"It's not easily over," said Bhichit. "[It could last] at least another 50 days because the volume of the water is still up in the north; it's not even at Ayutthaya or Bangkok yet. I mean at Ayutthaya we don't see any piece of land at all now; all we see is the water. It's all submerged. The main part of the water is still in Nakhon Sawan area. So you need some time to drain it out."

Officials from the Thai Industry Ministry say up to eight industrial estates and parks that employ over 200,000 highly skilled workers are under threat from floods.

Economists warn Thailand's growth rate will be hit, especially in the fourth quarter of 2011. Thanomsri Fongarunrung, a senior economist with Phatra Securities, says the impact on industrial production is a key concern for the economic outlook.

"Our concern is that the major area in the central area that is mainly the manufacturing of automobile, electronics, right now that is under flood and the major threat is that is comes through to Bangkok," said Fongarunrung.

While authorities warn Bangkok is at risk for flooding in the coming days, much of the damage so far has been in rural and agricultural areas in Southeast Asia.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said the flooding across countries bound by the Mekong River system - Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos - had led to the loss of over 550 lives. In Cambodia, efforts to assist communities had been hampered by high waters and dangerous road conditions.

Peter Brimble, a senior economist for the Asian Development Bank in Phnom Penh, said the damage has been devastating for poorer communities that have been building local infrastructure using government assistance.

"They've been using these small amounts of money - maybe $10,000 or $20,000 a year - to gradually build up some of the small roads and things around the village and their commune - and now they're all washed away," said Brimble.

In Vietnam, flooding hit the Mekong Delta region claiming over a dozen lives including children while storms also hit the north central coastal region leaving 60,000 homes submerged and damaged. In Laos, where floods have affected almost half a million people, the waters have damaged more than 60,000 hectares of farmland damaged as well as local infrastructure.

Arun Temple

look at this image, around 10 to 6 pm you will see the tourists from many countries.

Flooding Claims 250 Lives, as Government Response Continues

People sit as they receive flood donations at downtown Phnom Penh, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011. (Photo: AP)

Friday, 14 October 2011
Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer | Phnom Penh

"Our people are increasingly suffering."
The government raised the national death toll from ongoing flooding to nearly 250 on Friday, as Cambodia continues to grapple with its worst flooding in a decade.

More than 30,000 families have been pushed out of their homes in flooding that began in August. About 390,000 hectares of rice crop have been damaged, along with 2,700 kilometers of roadways in 17 provinces, according to government estimates.

The government has set aside more than $100 million to help repair damages, Hun Sen said Friday.

Relief efforts so far have included food and clothing deliveries to some 76,000 families, Hun Sen said. The Council of Ministers will provide more money to extend the relief efforts to another 40,000 families, he said.

International assistance has meanwhile started coming in, he said, with China providing $8 million for assistance, Japan $330,000 and the US $50,000.

However, some opposition officials have been critical of relief efforts so far.

"Some measures to rescue people seem slow up to now," said Nhem Ponharith, secretary-general of the Human Rights Party. "We really have concerns about the lack of food and medicine in the future."

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said the government must speed up its efforts. "Our people are increasingly suffering," he said.

Friday's new death toll comes on the heels of an emergency meeting Thursday, after which Hun Sen announced the cancelation of this year's annual Water Festival.

By canceling the festival, during which millions of Cambodians typically flock to the capital for three days of boat races and other events, Hun Sen said the government could use more resources to better help communities cope with the effects of the floods.

"The active forces must help repair the damages," he said. "The majority of the racing boats come from the flooded areas. The government has to pay for the water festival ceremonies."

He encouraged people to celebrate in their home provinces, "at Buddhist pagodas and in their communities."

The government typically pays $2,500 to the nation's 400 or so racing teams, a cost of about $1 million.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters Thursday the money will instead be used to help flood victims this year. He encouraged other celebration events during the three-day holiday, including playing music in public venues.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said the cancelation was a bad decision.

"It's a national tradition," he said. The festival also attracts foreign tourists, he said. That revenue will be lost. "We get double interest from foreign tourists visiting Cambodia," he said.

ASEAN shows solidarity in face of catastrophe

October 15, 2011

JAKARTA (Xinhua) - ASEAN member countries are making efforts to provide relief aids to flood-affected countries in the region.

ASEAN ministers have met and communicated to determine what kind of assistance to be channeled to the victims of the floods in the region, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Friday.

Floods have hit Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines since months ago, killing more than 500 people and damaging houses and infrastructures facilities.

"As the chairman of ASEAN, Indonesia has taken an initiative step. Our foreign minister has met with foreign ministers from ASEAN countries to formulate a collective step to help our friendly countries in settling the impact of the disaster," said Yudhoyono.

The member countries of ASEAN expressed their deep sympathy and condolence to the governments and peoples of Southeast Asian countries for the loss of lives and environmental assets caused by floods from heavy incessant rains, said a statement from the government of Indonesia.

"They believe that the governments and peoples of the affected countries will rise from this disaster with strong spirit and resilience to resume normal life and to rebuild their communities, " it said.

In this regard, the ASEAN member states also expressed their readiness to lend the affected countries support and assistance in a timely manner and in appropriate ways in accordance with the spirit of ASEAN solidarity, it said.

ASEAN member countries had also showed their solidarity during the tsunami in December 2004, which killed more than 230,000 people and damaged massive infrastructure facilities.

Many of ASEAN countries, particularly those lying along the Indian Ocean, had got relief aids after the tsunami, such as medical and logistic assistance, from ASEAN member countries.

Similarly with Indonesia, over 170,000 people were killed in the northern tip of Sumatra island of Aceh province. Foreign aids flew into the tsunami-hit area. Similar assistance were also received years later when other strong quakes and tsunamis hit other parts of Indonesia.

"Of course Indonesia is going to give aids to the neighboring countries, similar with the assistance given by them when Indonesia was hit by catastrophes (in the past)," said Yudhoyono.

Going forward, to help reduce the suffering of the victims of disasters, a regional disaster management training and logistics center is going to be built in West Sumatra of Indonesia in December while a full-scale tsunami warning system installed after the tsunami in December 2004 was tested on Wednesday, officials said.

The center will train regional disaster response managers and provide emergency supplies to enable quick disaster response.

Many of ASEAN member countries are prone to floods and earthquake as they are on a vulnerable quake-hit area called "the Pacific Ring of Fire."

A threat to Kingdom’s FDI

Friday, 14 October 2011 12:02
May Kunmakara
The Phnom Penh Post

Tokyo - Cambodia needs more than an estimated US$13 billion in infrastructure works by 2020 if the country intends to continue attracting foreign investment, a joint survey by some of the world's top financial institution indicated on Wednesday.

During a conference held by the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the International Monetary Fund, experts from the two institutions urged Asia's 16 low-income countries – which need some $358 billion in infrastructure projects by 2020 – to adopt public-private partnerships as a source of infrastructure investment and bank stability. Investment in the Kingdom's roads, bridges and power facilities will create prime conditions for continued high-level foreign direct investment, experts said. The survey – which drew from JICA, IMF, Asian Development Bank and World Bank data – called for $1.2 billion in infrastructure spending per year in Cambodia, with about half going to new projects and the other half to maintenance.

Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary general Vongsey Vissoth said public-private partnerships will play a key role in the country's financial and infrastructure development.

"We're hoping for private-sector [investment], which includes public-private partnerships. And we've already done this kind of partnership," he said. "In the future, we need a system which is much better [to handle these investments] and we need a bigger source of funds for bigger projects."

Several large infrastructure investment projects from China, Korea and Japan will lower Cambodia's power and transportation costs, Vongsey Sissoth added.

"It's the ability to attract this kind of significant development investment that will have a positive impact on the competitiveness of the Cambodian economy."

Faisal Ahmed, IMF's representative in Cambodia, said it is crucial to safeguard banks in terms of improving supervision and reducing interferences in lending decisions – a practice often seen in state-owned banks. "The financial stability risks need to be minimised by strengthening the quality of and coordination among banking and capital market supervisory agencies given the nexus between banks and capital markets," Ahmed said, stressing the importance of sound macroeconomic policy.

Japan Center for International Finance president Takatoshi Kato explained that there is a need for donors and multilateral development banks to provide support to low-income countries' projects through the funding of the preparation process to ensure that the right projects and right project specifications are chosen.

Confusion Reigns as Thai Capital Braces for Floods

October 14, 2011

BANGKOK (AP) -- Fear and confusion gripped Bangkok on Friday as residents grappled with mixed messages over whether Thailand's worst floods in decades would overwhelm the intricate defenses of the low-lying metropolis of 9 million people.

The government sought to reassure residents that the Thai capital would be spared from the deluge that has submerged entire towns across the country's central plains, devastated rice crops and shuttered hundreds of factories, noting that much of Bangkok sat behind a sturdy flood wall that has been reinforced in recent days.

"I insist that the floods will only affect outer Bangkok and will not be widespread in other areas," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Friday.

Authorities have for days been warning that the flooding has reached crisis levels and that waters rushing from the north could combine with rains and high tides in the next few days to flood the capital. Some have said the rush of water would be so strong that authorities would be left with little choice but to watch the city drown.

But the message hasn't always been clear, with some agencies, departments and officials contradicting others, sometimes in the same news conference.

Erroneous reports Thursday said flood waters had broken through one key flood gate, leading one government minister to order residents in the area to urgently evacuate. The government later apologized for the "misinformation," saying the evacuation order had been reversed and that damage to the gate had been overestimated.

The conflicting information has left many residents of Bangkok scratching their heads and wondering whether their neighborhoods are truly at risk -- and if so how best to prepare. Many have been stocking up on bottled water, rice, instant noodles, medicine and other essentials, leading to shortages in some areas. Others have moved their cars to higher ground in parking garages in the city's malls.

Buildings in many areas of the capital have stockpiled sandbags, while others have built protective walls from cement and cinderblocks. The city's subway system was rushing to install steel flood barriers.

"To be frank, I don't really know what's going to happen to Bangkok," said 26-year-old Kuealapat Atsawasiramanee, whose family home is about a half mile from the Chao Phraya River, which snakes its way through the city. "Is it going to be flooded or not, I'm not really sure. There are many pieces of information and news out there and I just don't know what to believe."

"If it's going to flood, the government simply needs to say so. Don't conceal the truth, because that will only lead to more panic."

The confusion hasn't been limited to Bangkok.

A Japanese trade organization on Friday blasted the government for allegedly failing to provide timely and accurate information about the situation in the central province of Ayutthaya, where hundreds of factories have been devastated.

Seiya Sukegawa of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Thailand said much of the information released by the government before floodwaters hit the area was late, contradictory or difficult to understand because it was not in English.

"Japanese companies didn't know what was happening or which information was true or not," he said. "They received warnings but not enough information and not enough time to decide the next step."

He said more than 300 Japanese-owned factories -- including electronics makers and automotive parts suppliers -- were damaged or destroyed by flooding.

Sukegawa also complained that the Thai government was doing nothing to help companies reach their factories to salvage whatever equipment and technology remained undamaged.

Not just factories and humans were affected in Ayutthaya, an ancient capital. About 100 elephants were forced to flee to higher ground and are facing food shortages as well as possible foot diseases because of the wet conditions.

Chusit Apirumanekul, a hydrologist at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, sympathized with the difficulties facing the government, saying the unpredictable nature of weather makes it impossible to forecast the flood threat with certainty.

"I think this is quite normal in every country when you have this kind of warning, forecasting, you cannot say that it will happen or it will not happen 100 percent," he said.

Yingluck said Friday that her government would adjust its methods of informing the public and that official information would only be released by the director of the Flood Relief Center.

Near the northern edge of Bangkok's city limits, Somjai Tpientong wondered whether the nearby sandbag wall protecting her community of Rangsit -- one link in the perimeter around Bangkok -- would hold up.

"If the water comes I'll have to let it happen. There's no way I can block it. For me, I'll move to an upper floor," she said. "I feel sorry for the people in lower-lying areas."

Some 8.2 million people in 61 out of Thailand's 77 provinces have been affected by the flooding, which has killed at least 283 people since late July

Cambodian draft law on NGOs may breach international pact, UN rights expert warns

Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

14 October 2011
UN News Centre
"A legal framework to ensure freedom of association should facilitate, rather than control, individuals' enjoyment of this right formally or informally"
A Cambodian draft law making registration of associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) mandatory and banning unregistered groups, risks breaching an international treaty, a United Nations rights expert warned today, calling on the Government to review it.

"The current draft NGO law contains a set of problematic provisions, raising concerns over a potential negative impact on Cambodian citizens' democratic participation in furthering the development of their country," UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai said in a news release, noting that it could violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The mandatory nature of the draft law "constitutes a clear infringement of the right to freedom of association. Having a recognized legal status may confer rights and benefits to organizations such as the ability to open bank accounts, but legal status is not necessary for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association," he added.

He welcomed a recent statement by Cambodia's ambassador to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council promising "further consultations" and called on the authorities to review the draft law in open and meaningful discussions with associations and NGOs.

By excluding refugees, stateless persons and other non-Cambodian residents from forming associations or domestic NGOs and limiting eligible founding members to Cambodian nationals, the draft further violates freedom of association, which should be enjoyed by all individuals within Cambodia's territory, he noted.

Other concerns include the high minimum membership requirement; lack of clarity of the criteria for registration, suspension or termination; and the overly cumbersome and bureaucratic registration process for foreign NGOs, which could limit the scope of their activities and hamper their independence.

"A legal framework to ensure freedom of association should facilitate, rather than control, individuals' enjoyment of this right formally or informally," Mr. Kiai said. "It should also emerge from an open, transparent process that engenders goodwill and confidence."

Two other UN experts raised concerns over the effects of the draft law on human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, stressed that the draft could affect the defenders' ability to exercise such rights.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya said the free and full exercise of the right to freedom of association places a duty on States to create a favourable environment for defenders to act freely.

"We urge the Cambodian authorities to fully take on board the legitimate concerns repeatedly raised by NGOs and associations during the announced further consultations," the two said, noting that the Government has reviewed and revised the draft law numerous times.

Last month, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, urged the Government to review the draft and not proceed with it in its present form.