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Bangkok Drowning – How the City Struggles with the Rising Tide

Mai 27, 2011
(c) WPPilot

(c) WPPilot

The city of Bangkok has expanded massively in the past and the population increased from 2 million in 1960 to 7 million in 2009 and scientists say that it might drown within the next 100 years.

Still most parts of the city still are located above the Gulf of Thailand but other parts are already below sea level. It would be easy to blame climate change and the resulting rising overall sea levels and increased precipitation for this phenomenon but this would only cover parts of the truth. The main contributing factor is land subsidence. Bangkok is built on clay and not on bedrock. The population and especially its industries are pumping 2.5 million cubic tons of water annually, and therefore overexploiting the aquifers that are situated below this clay layer. When the water is pumped out the pore water pressure declines, the clay layer compresses and the ground surface lowers. What also factors in is the increasing pressure on the surface coming from newly constructed buildings, roads etc, compressing the clay even more.

Besides the increased risk of floods land subsidence is obviously dangerous for infrastructure as well and has already caused massive damage to roads and calls for action from the city’s authorities. Since 1985 a groundwater fee is charged that was steadily increased and the groundwater withdrawal is closely monitored and awareness raising campaigns accompany these measures. Since then the level of groundwater abstraction and the rate of land subsidence have  decreased and the implemented policies were thus judged as succesful.

Nonetheless, Bangkok still sinks and the water still rises. The city has therefore invested in dams and drainage tunnels and the future will show if these measures are enduring or if the traditional Thai knowledge of building houses on stilts will come in handy again.

Find more information here:

A short overview from the UN on the reasons of land subsidence in Bangkok (a bit outdated maybe):

A World Bank report on Bangkok’s policies to stop land subsidence:

Another World Bank report on megacities and climate change:

An AP article on Bangkok’s situation:

An article on Bangkok’s planned flood tunnels:

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