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That Sinking Feeling

Illustration Graham Roumieu


Bangkok was once called “The Venice of the East,” a reference to the days when boatmen paddled the local version of gondolas through the sprawling Thai capital on a vast system of canals. In coming decades, both cities are in danger of disappearing underwater. Though an international effort to shore up Venice has been under way for years, notes Anond Snidvongs, one of Thailand’s top disaster specialists, “I’m more worried about Bangkok resembling Atlantis.”

With increasing regularity, heavy rainstorms turn flood-prone Bangkok thoroughfares into soupy canals, often in just an hour.

Most locals tolerate the flooding with typical Thai aplomb. As floodwaters rise, swarms of kids can be seen bobbing playfully around cars, occasionally catching confused fish. However, the deluges are a portent of something less whimsical: According to the kingdom’s National Disaster Warning Center, by 2030 much of the Thai capital will be five feet below the surface. The culprits include inadequate drainage, uprooted coastal plant life and rising sea levels. But the most significant factor? The entire city is slowly sinking.

Originally built on a soggy marsh, Bangkok over the centuries has added layers of concrete and steel, not to mention roughly 8 million inhabitants. All that weight, experts say, is slowly pushing Bangkok into the marsh.

The flooding will increase by about 2.5 feet every decade, Snidvongs predicts.

The Thai government is considering a massive “Wall Around Bangkok” project to hold back the tides, but for now the floods remain a soggy headache, choking traffic and sending street vendors fleeing. The local kids, however, are making the best of things. After all, where else can you go fishing with your bare hands in the middle of the street? —PATRICK WINN

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