large scale flooding in Surat Thani
large scale flooding in Surat Thani
homes destroyed by flooding in Krabi
homes destroyed by flooding in Krabi

Bridge over troubled water

In March 2011 there were extensive floods over much of Thailand. The South was hit particularly hard and there were landslides which killed many people, as villages were swept away or crushed. This isn't the first time it's happened. There were also serious floods in 2001 and 2008, but they are becoming more frequent as more of the forest is cut down. It was heavy flooding that finally promted the Thai government to enforce a full logging ban in 1988.

In March 2011 a village was crushed by a landslide in Krabi causing many deaths. The villagers had cleared the forest on the mountainside above their village to make way for planatation. Without the mesh of treeroots to stabilise it the topsoil was washed away by the flood causing the landslide.

Forests help provide stable water tables. Every plant and tree in a forest is like a big drinking straw. They absorb and retain huge amounts of water, keep the soil moist and also help to recycle water as rainfall. In wet periods they absorb water like a sponge and their roots hold the soil together, preventing flooding and landslides, and in dry periods they slowly release water which keeps the rivers flowing and the soil fertile.

Take away the forest and you are very soon looking at periods of flooding followed by drought. Eventually the topsoil dries and blows away, or is washed away in floods. The earth becomes less and less fertile and food production suffers. Local economies weaken and the community gets poorer and poorer. The irony is that the drive to become richer is often what causes communities to replace forest with plantation.