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Thais adjust to life in waist-deep floodwater

As the death toll passed 600 Sunday and the crisis enters its fourth month, the epic floods that have overwhelmed two-thirds of Thailand have become -- by necessity -- everyday life for many Thais.

Gideon Mendel, a freelance photographer affiliated with Corbis, saw this firsthand on his trip to Thailand in mid-November.  While many have had to evacuate their homes and livelihoods, in locations where the water is more manageable at knee- and even waist-height, some Thais are living in their homes, running their businesses and even having fun – in the flood water.

After four months of flooding, a few feet of water isn't enough to keep some Thais from going about their daily lives

To explore the flooded areas, Mendel and his translator, Namfon Cutter, traveled in a four-wheel-drive vehicle west toward Myanmar through the water to the outskirts of Bangkok. Eventually water started covering the highway until they could go no farther. At that point, they worked with several boat captains to help them continue on to rural villages and suburbs to document the lives of the flood victims.

As part of his long-term personal project entitled "Drowning World" Mendel has covered floods in six different countries from Pakistan and India to Australia and Haiti. But he has taken on this long-term project because he wants people to ask questions about why this flooding is happening. Is there a link to climate change?

Gideon Mendel / Corbis

Food vendors continue to ply their trade in the middle of rising water on the flooded Meenburi Road in the east of Bangkok. This is one part of Bangkok which has endured rising floodwaters over the past two weeks as the floodwaters which have inundated large parts of the country move through Bangkok towards the sea. Currently the water is knee high and these stallholders said that they will keep their street food carts open until the water is waist high.

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting in Uganda this week says "yes."

AP reports: The panel said the world needs to get ready for more dangerous and "unprecedented extreme weather" caused by global warming. These experts fear that without preparedness, crazy weather extremes may overwhelm some locations, making some places unlivable. ...

For example, the report predicts that heat waves that are now once-in-a-generation events will become hotter and happen once every five years by mid-century and every other year by the end of the century. And in some places, such as most of Latin America, Africa and a good chunk of Asia, they will likely become yearly bakings.

A man reads a newspaper as he sits in his flooded shop in the Wijit Kolnimit Community of Bangkok. Thailand is experiencing the worst flooding in over 50 years which has affected more than nine million people.

The panel also mentioned the $200-billion-a-year economic impact of extreme weather, from personal losses to interruptions in global supply chains. But Mendel is more concerned about the human impact. “The poorer you are, the more vulnerable you are to flooding. The more your life can be destroyed by flooding,” Mendel says.

Despite the hardship he witnessed, Mendel was amazed by how friendly and open people were to being photographed, despite being caught at such a difficult time. Instead of finding people asking for money or help, he encountered a lot of ingenuity and human spirit to persevere.

Gideon Mendel / Corbis

Moo Baan Prapin runs a superstore in the Petronas gas station in the Taweewattana District, Bangkok. "It turns out that our business here after the water reached us is much better than when there was no water. We can sell a lot, my friend and I quite enjoy it. We at first put stuff in a plastic tub and floated it from house to house to sell stuff and that went really well but then I got bitten by a big leech. We both got really scared so we stopped doing that, instead we put stuff out in the front of the house and do our business at home, it works as well."

More coverage:
As the floods recede, Bangkok blame game begins

Death toll from Thailand's floods tops 600

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