Adversity can bring people together and bring out the best of their natures. We think of the noble and dignified behaviour of the Japanese following the hurricane and tsunami earlier this year. We think of the spirit of the blitz (a spirit so strong that it convinced many that the Queen Mother – gawd rest ‘er soul – was something other than a snobbish, cold-hearted, calculating monster). And here in Thailand we have switched on the TV or opened the newspaper to see images of people selflessly filling sandbags, carrying elderly people through flood water and sharing what food and water they have with others. Sadly there is another side to human nature.
Politicians, already licking their chops at the prospect of all the money to be syphoned off from the infrastucture projects which will doubtless be initiated when the waters recede have been taking aid given by others and slapping their names on it. One particularly notable truckload of aid bore the message “With Love From Pol Lt Col Dr Thaksin Shinawatra.”
Cartoon from The Bangkok Post
The Flood Relief Organisation Committee [FROC] (an organisation headed by red shirt leaders) has been shamelessly partisan in its distribution of aid; red shirt politicians have had no problems getting aid to their supporters whilst others struggle without food or water. FROC also appears to be hoarding donations, rather than distributing them to those in need for less-than-clear motives.
The two main parties squabble incessantly. The Democrats want a state of emergency declared so that the army can have greater powers to act; Pheu Thai fears the army might use the opportunity to stage another coup, so uses the police force, which is neither trained or equipped for this type of work. Result: people suffer.
Not only politicians are seeking to profit from the floods: the price of food and water in markets has sky-rocketted. For example, eggs are now 8 Baht each, whereas until recently they were 3 Baht. The cost of renting an apartment in areas close to Bangkok but unaffected by flooding has also shot up, and owners are still insisting on minimum 6 month or 12 month contracts.
Angry mobs have been tearing down flood defences and destroying sluice gates to protect their property (or hasten the flow of water out from flooded properly) at the expense of their neighbours.
And there has been widespread looting of houses vacated by their owners when the waters rose. A friend of mine whose Ayutthaya house is still 2 metres under water has been relieved of his TV, welding equipment and much, much more. The thieves, taking their loot by boat, must have made several trips.
So, adversity can bring out both the best and the worst in people. But at a time of such hardship and sorry, perhaps it’s best to put the telescope to one’s blind eye.