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Japanese Investors Urge Renewal of Thai Flood Prevention Projects

BANGKOK, Thailand

Japanese investors this week urged Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the military group that overthrew the elected government on May 22, to continue with flood prevention projects that were started under the previous administration.

Last September, the Thai and Japanese governments signed an agreement on an early flood warning system. The goal was to increase Japanese investors’ confidence in Thailand following the devastating floods two years ago that killed hundreds of people and caused billions of dollars in damages.

Many Japanese companies were hit hard by the 2011 floods, sparking their interest in Thailand’s flood-prevention plans. To allay their concerns, Thailand’s previous Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, who was also chairman of the Water and Natural Disaster Management Committee, said Thailand would link its real-time national disaster warning system with Japan’s.

The warning system for the Chao Phraya River basin went into effect at the end of September 2013. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which developed the system, called it the first of its kind in the world. The system notifies the public about water levels on a daily and weekly basis, as well as issuing flood forecasts for the coming week.

Thailand had been developing a $12 billion USD water management and flood protection plan that used floodways and natural canals to manage water resources, as well as increasing forest restoration to mitigate soil erosion.

However, work on the multi-billion-dollar plan was halted last July by the Central Administrative Court due to environmental concerns. The court ordered the government to complete public hearings before signing contracts with construction companies.

In January, ahead of the country’s February elections, environmentalists called on what would be the new government to revise the flood control program, saying the government needed to listen to public opinion.

“I am not against the plan, but I want it to comply with legal procedures,” Srisuwan Janya, president of Thai NGO Stop Global Warming Association, told The Nation newspaper.

Srisuwan said the government had not done enough to explain the pros and cons of the program to local communities, and had not properly requested their input. He called for a poll of local residents to be used as the basis for a new water management master plan.

“There would be no strong opposition from local people if the government followed this legal step,” he said.

NCPO head General Prayuth Chan-ocha on May 27th invited the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and the Japan External Trade Organization to express their views on the situation. He said their trade ties would remain intact, according to deputy NCPO spokesman Colonel Sirichan Nathong.

Sirichan also said the general was considering the request to continue the projects. 

The Thai military seized control of the country last week; miitary leaders said the move was necessary to restore order after six months of political unrest in which anti-government protesters attempted to overthrow the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Twenty-eight people died and hundred more were injured in the clashes.

The military has dissolved the country's partliament and senate, suspended the constitution, and detained more than 100 people in secret locations.