Cleaning up and caring for communities after a disaster

The response to Ayutthaya floods shows that strong and united communities are our front line of defence and path to recovery.

Monruedee Jansuttipan
UNICEF staff and school teacher walk through classroom that was damaged in the flooding of Ayutthaya.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
24 February 2022

In the face of natural disasters and adversity, communities in Thailand have displayed great resilience and support for one another. The people of Ban Taku village in Ayutthaya’s Bang Ban district face these tough lessons every couple of years due to flooding. The flooding in 2021 was one of the toughest they had ever encountered.

"The water came so fast. People could barely move their belongings to a higher surface in time. In less than five days, the water level had already covered our heads," said Wanna Thongsijad, who has served as the village head of Ban Taku for the past 10 years.

Wanna Thongsijad, the village head of Ban Taku stand inside building effected by the flood.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
Wanna Thongsijad, the village head of Ban Taku

Having monitored the situation closely, UNICEF responded quickly by coordinating with Raks Thai Foundation to prioritize Bang Ban district for disaster relief. Raks Thai Foundation is a leading non-profit organization that carries out emergency responses in the area.

Led by Wanna, the community united to help ensure everyone’s safety during the crisis. As people lost their homes to flooding, her team managed to secure tents for villagers to use as their temporary shelters on the main road, which had remained dry due to its elevation. Cars and motorcycles were kept at the village’s evacuation centre, where volunteer villagers, both men and women, were in charge of guarding for 24 hours a day.

But the main goal was to keep everyone fed and find access to clean water, as running water had been cut. The main kitchen was set up on the roadside to feed all villagers by using money and goods from wherever they could find, including some donations from businesses.

The challenge was not only taking care of people now living on the street. Ban Taku villagers also had to make sure that no one was left behind, especially vulnerable groups such as children, elders and poor people.

A family that was stranded at their flooded house.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
Sirithorn Gade-ngarm who was stranded at their flooded house.

Sirithorn Gade-ngarm, 62, was stranded at her flooded house and taking care of her mother of 85 who had a mental disorder, her 8-year-old nephew who was studying online and her niece who was just beginning to walk. Her son, as the sole household earner, was struggling to make a living during the floods.

“It was really stressful and exhausting. It was like that for 2 months,” said Sirithorn.

This isn't the first time that people in Bang Ban district are facing a flash flood. They are the most hard-hit flood disaster area every couple of years due to the Southwest Monsoon in August to October. The flood disaster in 2011 kept Ban Taku village under water for up to six months. While flooding may not be as widespread as in 2011, flood waters in 2021 were strong and rose rapidly.

According to the locals, flooding in the Bang Ban district is more severe with every year due to new developments blocking the waterways. The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said that 11 of the 16 districts in Ayutthaya had been severely affected by the floods in 2021. Nearly 55,000 Ayutthaya households and schools were affected.

In addition to providing emergency aid during the floods, UNICEF and Raks Thai Foundation saw the need to respond to appeals from villagers to help clean up their community after the water had receded, so that normal life could resume. They supported the urgent task to build knowledge in the community on good hygiene, to help people protect themselves from COVID-19, flood-related diseases and poisonous animals. They also provided supplies for cleaning, waste management and COVID-19 protection.

UNICEF and Raks Thai Foundation distributed critical hygiene and cleaning supplies in Ban Taku village and other flood-affected communities in Ayutthaya.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
UNICEF and Raks Thai Foundation distributed critical hygiene and cleaning supplies in Ban Taku village and other flood-affected communities in Ayutthaya.

“We have worked with people in this area since the 2011 floods and have found out that in addition to a lack of food supplies, support for hygiene and cleaning supplies is also crucial,” said Sutirat Kojchsawad, Raks Thai Foundation Programme Officer and Field Coordinator.

“The cleaning process has become a cost of living that they needed to spend a lot on. For example, they normally use bathroom cleaning equipment for three months, but nowadays they need to use it a lot to clear all the dirt out of their home. Villagers have already lost their income during the floods. Their orchards and rice fields are gone, along with the money they invested. Some families lost their daily jobs at the flooded factories nearby. So these cleaning supplies can help relieve their costs.”

UNICEF staff and Raks Thai Foundation staff are talking.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
Sutirat Kojchsawad, Raks Thai Foundation Programme Officer and Field Coordinator.

The floods also damaged more than 50 schools in Ayutthaya, affecting 5,000 students who lost their classrooms and school supplies.

At the Wat Taku School, a small school with 53 children and four teachers, the cleaning needed to take place right away after the water had receded as all 10 classrooms had been damaged. Ruchanee Taranad, Wat Taku School Director, made this task a priority to make it on time for school reopening for onsite classes on 1 December, 2021.  

“We were actually decorating a new classroom for a kindergarten with a budget of nearly 100,000 baht, but it’s all gone now after the flooding. After the water receded, we had no budget to hire anyone to clean. So our children and community are helping to clean it up together,” said Rachanee upon receiving the cleaning supplies, which she saw as crucial for helping restore the school.

Ruchanee Taranad, Wat Taku School Director
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
Ruchanee Taranad, Wat Taku School Director
Community members help to clean the school.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
Community members help to clean the school.

Apart from the cleanup, another challenge for teachers here is helping students catch up in learning and get ready for in-person classes after months of online learning. While some of her students like Tanapat Sanyaporn, 8, and Jakkapan Supnoi, 9, were able to study online on their parents’ mobile phones from their flooded homes or from the temporary shelters on the main road, there still are many more children that couldn’t keep up with online classes due to a lack of money. So the teachers have been putting their effort into teaching all their students in the mornings while cleaning up the school together in the afternoons.

The school was clean and ready to re-open.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
The school was clean and ready to re-open.

To reopen the school, Wanna and her fellow villagers have worked together to get rid of the knee-level mud covering the village’s road, the temple and the school. They spent nearly two weeks cleaning up the road and even split their time and tools with other villages who had asked for their help.

Mark Sirapob Rakthongsuk, UNICEF Programme Officer said, “UNICEF is glad to work with Raks Thai Foundation in identifying people in need and affected by the floods in Ban Taku village. Providing cleaning supplies will offer critical relief for many families, assisting them with practicing good hygiene and cleaning up the wreckage.”

Hygiene supplies were distributed to students.
UNICEF Thailand/2021/Preechapanich
Hygiene supplies were distributed at the school to promote healthy hygiene practices among the students and teachers

UNICEF and Raks Thai Foundation are also distributing more than 1500 hygiene kits and cleaning kits in flood-affected communities in Chaiyaphum and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces to ensure that families are equipped to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19 and to safely clean their homes after the floods.

“What we see here is a community that is strong, as they are united under a good leader and care for each other. We are supporting them with supplies so that they can continue their efforts to rebuild their village and their lives again,” said Mark.


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