Floating Homes in Flood Prone Thailand

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Thailand tests floating homes in region grappling with floods

Nestled among hundreds of identical white and brown two-storey homes crammed in this neighborhood for factory workers is a house with a trick - one not immediately apparent from its green-painted drywall and grey shade panels.

Hidden under the house and its wraparound porch are steel pontoons filled with Styrofoam. These can lift the structure three meters off the ground if this area, two hours north of Bangkok, floods as it did in 2011 when two-thirds of the country was inundated, affecting a fifth of its 67 million people.

The 2.8 million baht ($86,000) amphibious house in Ban Sang village is one way architects, developers and governments around the world are brainstorming solutions as climate change brews storms, floods and rising sea levels that threaten communities in low-lying coastal cities.

"We can try to build walls to keep the water out, but that might not be a sustainable permanent solution," said architect Chuta Sinthuphan of Site-Specific Co. Ltd, the firm that designed and built the house for Thailand's National Housing Authority.

"It's better not to fight nature, but to work with nature, and amphibious architecture is one answer," said Chuta, who is organizing the first international conference on amphibious architecture in Bangkok in late August.

Asia is the region most affected by disasters, with 714,000 deaths from natural disasters between 2004 and 2013 - more than triple the previous decade - and economic losses topping $560 billion, according to the United Nations.

Some 2.1 billion people live in the region's fast-growing cities and towns, and many of these urban areas are located in vulnerable low-lying coastal areas and river deltas, with the poorest and most marginalized communities often waterlogged year-round.

For Thailand, which endures annual floods during its monsoon season, the worsening flood risks became clear in 2011 as panicked Bangkok residents rushed to sandbag and build retaining walls to keep their homes from flooding.

Vast parts of the capital – which is normally protected from the seasonal floods – were hit, as were factories at enormous industrial estates in nearby provinces such as Ayutthaya. Damage and losses reached $50 billion, according to the World Bank.

And the situation is worsening. A 2013 World Bank-OECD study forecast average global flood losses multiplying from $6 billion per year in 2005 to $52 billion a year by 2050.

FLOATING HOUSE

In Thailand, as across the region, more and more construction projects are returning to using traditional structures to deal with floods, such as stilts and buildings on barges or rafts.

Bangkok is now taking bids for the construction of a 300-bed hospital for the elderly that will be built four meters above the ground, supported by a structure set on flood-prone land near shrimp and sea-salt farms in the city's southernmost district on the Gulf of Thailand, said Supachai Tantikom, an advisor to the governor.

Source: Reuters.com
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