Flooding in Bangkok is going into its fifth week. Some areas flooded and drained again. Others flooded and, weeks later, remain under water. There’s a lot of talk about the negative impact on Thailand’s economy, particularly for tourism, exports and agriculture. But, little is said about the people impacted the most. Working-class Thais who cook food on the street, drive motorcycle taxis, or own small market stalls. People in the majority in Thailand; earning an average income of 10,000 baht ($327) a month and technically, the ‘working poor’.
Today, I took a motorcycle taxi to meet a friend for lunch. The water on my street has drained enough motorbikes can take passengers around most areas of my neighborhood – a godsend for them as, in the 10 days we were under water, motorcycle taxi drivers lost 100% of their income.
Motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok get permission to drive in specific areas by what amounts to a local mafia. To be allowed to work, they pay an initial hefty fee to the mafia for the “spot”, and must then hand over a percentage of the money they make every week.
If there’s a problem in their area, like current flooding, they’re not allowed to work a different street, as those places are already taken by other drivers. Thus, when my neighborhood spent 10 days under water too deep for motorcycles to drive through, drivers on my street had no other way to make an income.
The woman who drove me to the mall today, Khun Uan, has driven on my street for years, so she and I know each other well. Today, when I waved her down as she whizzed by and asked her to drive me to the mall, was the first time I’d seen her in two weeks.
As we drove along, I asked about her house. She lives in the Sai Mai area of Bangkok, and her house flooded days before my neighborhood did, so she’s already endured three weeks of flooding. The water in Sai Mai is waist-deep. When floods first hit, she, her husband, two kids, and her elderly mother and father moved to live on the second floor. They had no electricity, running water or useable toilet.
After a few days, the family packed up, took a boat out of their neighborhood, and moved in with a friend. That area flooded five days later and they moved again. This time to stay with a relative in a district that, until now, has been spared flooding.
Khun Uan starts work at 6am and finishes at 5pm. For her 11 hour daily shift, driving people short distances up and down my street, her monthly salary is around 12,000 baht ($393). When my street flooded, for two weeks, she made nothing.
Her husband owns a street stall selling noodles. A bowl of noodles sells for 35 baht (just over $1). For his 10 hour daily shift, he earns 10,000 baht ($327) a month. His noodle stall is on a street in Sai Mai. Three weeks of flooding means he had no income either.
Khun Uan said they’ve taken money out of what small savings they have, and borrowed money from family. They’re not sure how they’ll pay for house repairs, when floods go down, as government compensation is only 5,000 baht ($163) per household.
Khun Uan is just one Thai woman trying to make a living, but she’s part of the true impact of Bangkok’s devastating floods.