On the seventh anniversary of the devastating tsunami that killed more than 8,000 people in Thailand and over 250,000 people elsewhere, German news agency dpa is now reporting Thailand’s much touted “tsunami alert system” is broken. According to the news agency, and the Bangkok Post that reported it, respected meteorologist Smith Dharmasaroja said the tsunami alert system in Thailand is not only broken, there’s no way it would even detect a tsunami. Not good news for the millions of tourists who hit Thailand’s beaches every year, or the even more millions of Thais who live there.
Mr. Dharmasaroja said bouys set up to detect tsunami waves weren’t working because replacement parts hadn’t been used, and even the warning towers were now non-functioning.
This was patently obvious on Sunday when high waves hit a village in the east of Thailand. There was no warning issued by the tsunami alert system beforehand, so the village was badly flooded and residents forced to evacuate — after the fact.
Of course, for many of us who live or spend a lot of time in Thailand, this kind of news simply elicits the response “typical Thailand”. Things often look pretty or ‘correct’ in Thailand but it’s rare that they actually work, as anyone who has worked for a Thai organization can tell you.
The way things work in Thailand is simple. They’re built (often with substandard parts or products, and usually by unskilled Burmese or Thai laborers), and once built they’re left there. Maintenance doesn’t seem to exist in most areas of Thai life, and the only time things are actually looked at is when they finally break.
The only reason Thais even know the tsunami alert system doesn’t work today is because one foreign meteorologist reported it. If that had not happened, Thai authorities would have blindly gone on, pretending the system works without even bothering to check, for heaven knows how long.
As for the government response? Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said this, “Our early warning system is still imperfect. We need to improve our efficiency.”
That shows Thai authorities have no clue as to what the real problem is — not ‘efficiency’ but ‘maintenance’. Neither skills, of course, are common in Thailand, a country that is proud of its ‘development’ but has little of it where it really counts.
Meanwhile, tourists thinking about traveling to Thailand might reconsider booking hotels and having vacations at Thai beach resorts. If there is another tsunami, even one smaller than the 2004 disaster, Thailand has no way of warning people before it happens.
In fact, seven years later, the country is in no better of a position than it was the day before the 2004 tsunami, so the result of such an event would likely be the same — massive damage and enormous loss of life.
Considering these facts, many tourists might not want to risk it.