The urban political ecology of the 2011 floods in Bangkok : The creation of uneven vulnerabilities

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623-651
Journal / PublicationPacific Affairs
Issue number3
Online published1 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


This paper uses an urban political ecology analysis to question the discourses used by Thai government leaders regarding the causes of the 2011 floods in Bangkok and the solutions that they have proposed in response. In contrast to their argument that the main causes of the floods in Bangkok were climate change and nature, I argue that the causes of the 2011 floods are compound. They are a result of human-nature interactions: while Thailand did receive heavy rainfall that year, a number of human activities interacted with this heavy rainfall to create the floods. During the past few decades, local political elite have risen to power and profited the most from Bangkok’s urbanization activities while changes to the physical environment of Bangkok have made those living there more vulnerable to floods. These activities include massive land use change and concretization which have drastically increased run-off, over-pumping of groundwater, and the filling of canals. Further, both the local and national government’s overreliance on antiquated and poorly maintained infrastructure made the city more vulnerable to the 2011 floods. 

In 2011, human decisions, particularly by politicians, about where to direct and block water heavily influenced which groups were most vulnerable. As a result, the inner city was protected at the expense of those living in the city’s peripheral areas. Analyses of disasters in urban areas therefore need to consider how discourses, socio-political relations, and ecological conditions shape governance practices of disasters.

Research Area(s)

  • 2011 thailand floods, Bangkok urbanization, Disaster governance, Social vulnerability, Thai flood management, Urban political ecology