Hat Yai resilience

Posted on 11 November 2015

From flood prevention to resilience

From flood prevention to resilience

Hat Yai has become a model for flood resilience in Thailand as one of ten core cities in the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN). Shifting the focus from flood prevention to learning how to live with floods, Hat Yai has developed a resilience strategy with evacuation centers, an early warning system, education programs and community-based capacity building. In 2015, Hat Yai was chosen as Thailand´s National Earth Hour Capital.
Hat yai was awarded the title Global Earth Hour Capital in Earth Hour City Challenge 2015
Keywords: flooding, climate change resilience, ACCCRN, early warning system, disaster preparedness
Hat Yai is a coastal town in southern Thailand that is undergoing rapid urbanization and commercialization. With 160,000 people in the city and 800,000 in the greater area, Hat Yai has become the third largest metropolitan area and the economic center of southern Thailand. Located on a low-lying floodplain area, the city has long suffered from regular flood events every year, and major flood events in 12-year intervals.

More frequent severe flooding
After a devastating flood in 2000, Hat Yai made large investments in flood prevention: floodwalls, levees, drainage systems, and six large water diversion canals (see also New Orleans). But in 2010 Hat Yai was hit by a flood that caused even more damage than a decade earlier, despite the protective measures. Floods up to 3.5 meters high submerged 80% of the city, displaced people and caused more than $320 million worth of damage. The 2010 flood was followed by severe events also in 2011 and 2012. Over the past decade, Hat Yai has seen more frequent flashfloods, and more severe flood events, attributed to climate change and exacerbated by modern farming and the city’s unplanned growth owing to rapid urbanization, which has reduced drainage.

The administration of Hat Yai realized that flood prevention was not enough. Although the city has continued with preventive measures, its focus has shifted to learning how to live with floods by minimizing the impact of flooding through a systematic response. This work has been done with the help of ACCCRN, a network of Asian cities in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, that Hat Yai joined in 2009 as one of the ten original cities (see also Semarang). The network has since expanded to over 50 cities.

Many actions in systematic response
Hat Yai started by establishing a Floods Working Group with representatives from the city administration, local communities, the business sector, academia and NGOs. Integrated planning across multiple agencies, engaging stakeholders, and agreeing on a unified approach have been key to the success of the program.

The working group produced a Vulnerability Assessment Report, which included a resilience strategy with prioritized actions. It also established the Climate Change Resilience Learning Centre for coordination and education, working with capacity building of local communities, government agencies and other stakeholders. The working group also helped communities in the most vulnerable areas to form committees. These have mapped out the city to understand water flows and formulated action plans. The working group also produced a handbook on what to do in the event of a flood, built flood evacuation centers, and created an insurance fund to help those affected. People who live in two-storage houses have been encouraged to allow their neighbors to use them in times of emergency.

Finally, the group invested in an early flood warning system. With real-time CCTV footage of water levels at critical junctions in the city, a popular website now helps Hat Yai´s citizen with disaster preparedness. The website also broadcasts other relevant information, including rainfall data and satellite imagery, and is now used by radio stations to provide early warning.

New cooperative climate in Hat Yai
An unexpected positive side effect to Hat Yai´s work with flood resilience has been the close links forged between different groups amongst its residents. A new trust has been built, and the municipal government sees a potential to strengthen the public consultation process for infrastructure construction and other projects.

In April 2015, Hat Yai hosted ACCCRN´s launch of a regional knowledge sharing initiative in Thailand with a networking field visit by representatives from other ACCCRN cities. Hat Yai has started a process of helping other Thai cities develop resilience programs. The city also has ambitions to scale up its efforts to achieve not only city-wide but river basin-level urban climate resilience.

Hat Yai also has a climate change mitigation plan with commitments across key areas, including large waste to energy projects aiming to halve the waste going to landfill, a goal commended by the Earth Hour City Challenge international jury.

ACCCRN, “Coming to terms with the reality of flooding in Hat Yai”, april 2015, http://acccrn.net/news/coming-terms-reality-flooding-hat-yai

Urban Climate Resilience Community, “Flood management in Hat Yai City of Thailand”, May 6 2015, http://urbanclimatevn.com/2015/05/06/flood-management-in-hai-yai-city-of-thailand/

Thomson Reuters Foundation, “Thai city uses CCTV, web to warn of floods”, June 19 2014, http://www.trust.org/item/20140619090845-r6vi7/?source=fiHeadlineStory

UNISDR, “Local self-assessment leads to resilience”, January 10 2014, http://www.unisdr.org/archive/36113

Sustainability, “Thai city makes business case for preparing for climate change”, August 5 2013, http://sustainability.thomsonreuters.com/2013/08/05/thai-city-makes-business-case-for-preparing-for-climate-change/

Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, http://acccrn.net/

carbonn Climate Registry, City Climate Report: Hat Yai City Municipality, http://carbonn.org/data/report/commitments/?tx_datareport_pi1%5Buid%5D=695

Text by: Martin Jacobson
The Bronze Buddha and temple on the top of Hat Yai Hill
© City of Hat Yai
Map Hat Yai