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Thailand: baby Soraiya symbolizes hope as flood victims recover

20-12-2010 Feature

The floods that hit southern Thailand in November were the worst the region has experienced for 70 years. Families took to the rooftops in order to escape the rising water, with many remaining cut off for days after the rain had stopped. Working in close cooperation, the ICRC and the Thai Red Cross delivered emergency supplies and stoves to stranded families.

Not every two-day-old baby has her home submerged under two metres of water. But Soraiya Manuad has survived Thailand's worst floods in decades.

The village of Nam Khang lies in the province of Pattani, sandwiched between two canals, and flooding is an annual occurrence for the Manuads. But this year's flood went beyond anybody's imagination. Esah Manuad is Soraiya's great-aunt and the matriarch of the family. "We get flooding every year, but it's never more than knee height. This year it just gushed in. After three days of non-stop rain, we all had to move upstairs."

The Manuads were well-prepared. They made a raft out of banana tree trunks and plastic barrels, so that all their possessions would rise along with the water. But despite all their precautions Esah's thatched shack was unable to resist the floods and the family fled to nearby Ban Tamnearb School along with their neighbours.

Esah had stored food for the family and shared it with her fellow flood victims at the school, but her stock soon ran out. The district office sent in a boat to deliver basic supplies, but those were soon gone as well.

As the floods subsided, the ICRC was able to work with local NGO head Anchana Heemina to deliver emergency packages to Esah and her neighbours. Anchana's contacts with local communities gave her a crucial role in ensuring that people in remote hamlets received packages – especially along the border between the provinces of Songkhla and Pattani.

The operation proved a challenge for everyone, as Pattani and other southern provinces were hit by the worst floods in 70 years, with some areas submerged to a depth of three metres. Thailand suffered a series of floods after incessant rain in the north caused water to overflow into the central plain and parts of the north-east.

Bart Vermeiren heads the ICRC team in Pattani. He spoke enthusiastically of teamwork with other organizations, explaining that the ICRC "couldn't have done what we did without the Thai Red Cross and the local authorities."

Mariah Narapitakkul, Chairman of the Pattani Provincial Red Cross Chapter, reciprocates: "We are grateful for the assistance of the ICRC," she said. "There was no food, no water and no cooking gas, and we couldn't get through to the affected areas because the roads were cut off."

Around 4,000 families received emergency deliveries of dry food packages, canned food and fresh eggs, and about 1,000 gas stoves were distributed to families stranded on the roofs of their homes so that they could cook.

For Esah and her friends and families, the eggs distributed by the ICRC and the Thai Red Cross became an important source of nourishment. "They give us energy and kept us going," she explained.

"Food and water were the most important items on the list," said Vermeiren. "These will enable people to survive as they start to rebuild their lives."

Esah smiles at her great-niece. But Soraiya is fast asleep in her mother's arms, oblivious to her role as a symbol of resilience, hope and a new beginning.


Photos

Three days of non-stop rain flooded eight southern Thai provinces, leaving some areas under three metres of water. 

Three days of non-stop rain flooded eight southern Thai provinces, leaving some areas under three metres of water.
© ICRC

Esah Manuad recalls how she had to flee to a nearby school after three days of flooding. 

Esah Manuad recalls how she had to flee to a nearby school after three days of flooding.
© ICRC

Soraiya Manuad was born just two days before the south's worst floods in decades. 

Soraiya Manuad was born just two days before the south's worst floods in decades.
© ICRC

Thai Red Cross personnel and ICRC Pattani team leader Bart Vermeiren listen to accounts of the flooding. 

Thai Red Cross personnel and ICRC Pattani team leader Bart Vermeiren listen to accounts of the flooding.
© ICRC