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Bangkok Struggles to Clear Garbage

People row their belongings through floodwaters during an evacuation from a garbage-strewn flooded market in Bangkok

 

Thai authorities are boosting efforts to collect drain-clogging garbage in Bangkok as Thailand’s slow-rolling floodwaters send debris from upstream into the capital, threatening two more massive industrial parks Monday after swamping seven others.

Flooded roads are preventing garbage collectors getting to many areas—raising fears over the risk of disease and over the blockage of drains, which is impeding the flow of water into the sea. Bangkok produces about 8,700 tons of rubbish a day—roughly a quarter of Thailand’s total. Added to that figure is the additional trash flowing into the city from Northern provinces.

In some areas, such as Khlong Sam Wa in Bangkok’s northeast, residents demolished government-built levies that had penned in the stagnant, trash-strewn water in their neighborhoods, freeing it to move south where it is encircling the Bang Chan and Lat Krabang industrial estates. Companies, including Unilever Pcl, Nestle SA and Honda Motor Co., operate in the area, and if the parks fall it would present a fresh blow to Thailand’s economy and its credibility as a destination for global manufacturers. The floods already have submerged several key industrial parks, severely disrupting the global supply of crucial auto parts and computer components.

“You can’t blame people for deciding to take matters into the own hands” by tearing down embankments, said Boonsern Chitchuen, who has been living on the fetid, flooded side of the Khlong Sam Wa flood barrier for weeks. “People are getting sick from the garbage, and there is no help here to collect it all.”

City governor, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, has ordered the municipal refuse collectors to work around the clock in their trucks and boats in an attempt to to prevent a bigger disaster, while teams of street sweepers scour the city to keep debris from clogging vital drains.

Countrywide, more than 500 people have been killed by the floods since late July. In Bangkok, city leaders are urging people to leave 12 of the city’s 50 districts, and several more are under partial evacuation orders as the floodwaters encroach on Bangkok’s main business district, past the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Some city workers say the public employees can’t do it on their own. Street sweeper Jiraporn Sirikul says her fellow residents need to learn to pick up their own trash and dispose of it properly. “I don’t mind doing what I can to pick up the garbage. It’s my job. But people have to learn to help themselves, too, and realize that when they dump garbage in the streets they risk flooding their own homes and those of their neighbors,” Ms. Jiraporn, 45 years old, said, as she surveyed a flooded city intersection with her two young daughters. “People have to learn to be more responsible.”

It’s a lesson other cities in the region have had to learn. In 2009, when a typhoon ripped through Manila, about a third of the Philippines’ capital quickly flooded because of garbage blocking the city’s drainage systems. Government workers there mobilized to clean up Manila’s drains and launched a public awareness program about the dangers of recklessly tossing trash away. When a similar storm then passed over Manila in September, the flooding was less intense.

Thailand’s clean-up, when the floods eventually recede, will be more of a challenge, and analysts say it could determine whether foreign manufacturers choose to reinvest here or relocate to other countries.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plans to propose to her Cabinet on Tuesday an initial budget of 100 billion baht, or $3.3 billion, to rebuild roads, homes and hospitals, and intends to travel to the Ayutthaya province, where many industrial parks are located, to oversee drainage operations as water levels begin to fall. Longer term, her government has said it will look at ways to better manage the country’s water flow following a series of heavy monsoon seasons.

—Wilawan Watcharasakwet contributed to this article.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com

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