Wednesday, April 26

Via Inhabitat: Post-Slum Payatas

Writing for
Inhabitat, Bryan Finoki takes an in-depth look at poverty, slums, dump-site economies and an organization in the Philippines, Gawad Kalinga, that is using disaster relief as a catalyst for changing the socio-economic infastructure that creates such situations in the first place.

It's good to see organizations that not only deal with the conditions of poverty, but the perceptions (self-perception included) of it, too. Moleto says, "Poverty is not just an absence of money. [...] You just can'’t take away the slums; you also have to take away the slum mentality of the people who live there." And, perhaps the way slums are perceived in general. While this type of poverty can be dehumanizing, I am sure he would agree that for the people who salvage a livelihood for themselves there, the slums are actually a great source of pride and strength, if, at the very minimum, as a means of survival. Indeed, some of the greatest triumphs of human spirit and entrepreneurialism can be found deep within the urban networks of rampant global poverty. Nevertheless, this type of community building just goes to show, if we can continue to bring needed resources together, often times these vibrant and thriving communities will assemble themselves with far greater capacity and ingenuity than perhaps anyone else could provide for them. Isn't that the true source of human pride?

Read the whole post here and more at Bryan's own blog, Subtopia, here.

Saturday, April 22

Tsunami Recovery in Thailand | Part 5: TWO TALES OF SURVIVAL

(Part 5 of a 12 part series)

Five weeks after the Tsunami hit, Sishir Chang went to Thailand to see how the people there were recovering and to see how those concerned could help. The following is the fifth installment of his experiences in the aftermath of one of the world'’s most devastating natural disasters. Originally published in the Southasian, the article is being republished here, with previously unpublished photographs, with the author's permission.


1. The Monk’s Tale


Abbot Poon Sawatt presides over Wat Kamala, the small Buddhist temple that serves the village of Kamala. On the morning of December 26th at 9:50AM he was on the second floor of the monks’ residence readying a talk he was going to give that morning. As he looked out over the bay he noticed the water was very dark and rushing onto land. Soon the temple and its grounds were under about a meter (3 feet) of water but in about 2 minutes the water subsided leaving many fish trapped on land. The locals began to collect the fish but as they did so the water came back this time higher and higher. Soon the pictures of the life of the Buddha that decorated the second story of the temple were no longer visible and boats were being dragged inland. The building the Abbot was in broke and he found himself suddenly being tumbled underwater.

As he tumbled he heard a roaring sound that filled his ears. Eventually he managed to grab onto a tree and pull himself up above the water. As he pulled himself up he had to fend off debris with his free hand and saw a bus being pushed by the water. He suddenly noticed a tin roof coming towards him and dove back under to avoid getting his head cut off by the roof. As he did so more water struck and pushed him inland further. After awhile the water du
mped him onto a pile of sand almost 700 meters (2,100 feet) away from the temple. He had survived but lost all of his clothes and grabbed a shirt to tie around him to go to the hospital. Even though he and another monk had lived three monks in the same building had died. 63 others, including 22 foreigners, had also lost their lives in Kamala. A school near the temple had been devastated but fortunately wasn’t in session at the time.

2. “Water Go Home!”


Peter and Gerti Trausdorf are Austrians in their 60’s who spend winters in Phuket. At around 10:00 AM on December 26th they had just gotten to the beach and Peter had just ordered his breakfast of Johk (Thai rice porridge) as he was settling down one of the cabana workers told him that the water had disappeared. He looked up and noticed that the water had gone out of Patong Bay about 600 meters (1,800 feet) or more. Several fish were stranded on the bottom of the suddenly dry bay. Peter thought no more of it as his food arrived. Just as he started to take his first bite Gerti started screaming “The water is coming back!” Peter looked up to see a wall of water rapidly approaching the beach. He jumped up onto a low sea wall and grabbed onto a railing as the water rose up to one and a half meters (5 feet) around him. As he clung on he realized that he couldn’t see his wife. Unknown to him Gerti was trapped on the beach underneath beach umbrellas that had been displaced by the wave. Just as suddenly the water receded and Gerti managed to get clear of the umbrellas.

Peter grabbed his wife and pulled her up just in time as the next wave hit. This one was much larger and as the water rose it lifted Peter and Gerti up above the level of the railing. As Peter was lifted up about a meter (3 feet) above the railing he hung on with one hand and with the other to his wife while around him beach umbrellas, motorbikes and even cars were being thrown about. Fortunately none of them hit them. As the wave lifted them higher and higher he started to shout, “Water go home!” As he shouted the water did start receding but as it did it brought debris out with it. Peter and Gerti found themselves having to fend off debris as it came hurtling at them. A tree struck Peter in the leg just below the knee and gashed him badly. As the water rushed past the tree broke and was swept out. Finally the water dropped back down to normal and Peter noticed his leg badly bleeding.

He and Gerti realized they needed to get to a hospital and started to make their way up the ruined streets. As they did Gerti fell into a sinkhole but managed to hang onto Peter who pulled her out. Stopping at a store Peter got some rice whiskey and washed out his wound. As they made their way down the main street of Patong, a block away and running parallel to the beach, the next wave hit. This one was even larger and Peter and Gerti rapidly scrambled up the steps of a bank to get away. Once the water receded again they ran into a police officer who seeing how badly Peter was bleeding commandeered a truck to take him through the flooded streets to the hospital in central Patong.

At the hospital wounded and dead were streaming in. A nurse stitched Peter up quickly while medical personal set up a triage system to deal with the most injured. As the staff dealt with those wounded more severally than Peter he got some dressings and disinfectant and bandaged up his wound. At that point he felt well enough to go back to his hotel and refused an offer to be flown to the international hospital in Phuket. Even though he felt well enough to go the hospital staff wouldn’t let him leave the hospital because for the next several hours rumors of another tsunami would come in each hour and the staff would frantically herd people up to the second floor of the hospital. By 5 PM it was obvious that another tsunami wasn’t going to hit and they left the hospital. In the water they had lost all of their keys, money and anything else they had on the beach. Peter was forced to break into his hotel room with a piece of metal debris.

Even though they endured the worst of the tsunami Peter and Gerti have decided to remain in Phuket and to come back next year. Their son has asked them to come back to Austria but they figure that the tsunami is a small price to pay to get away from the cold and the snow of Austrian winter. Anyway as Peter said with a smile, “Now I know when a tsunami is coming. When the water disappears I know to run. Sometimes when I’m sleeping on the beach I wake up to see if the water is still there. If it is I know everything is all right and go back to sleep.”

Thursday, April 6

Tsunami Recovery in Thailand | Part 4: THE DAMAGE

(Part 4 of a 12 part series)

Five weeks after the Tsunami hit, Sishir Chang went to Thailand to see how the people there were recovering and to see how those concerned could help. The following is the fourth installment of his experiences in the aftermath of one of the world'’s most devastating natural disasters. Originally published in the Southasian, the article is being republished here, with previously unpublished photographs, with the author's permission.


In the main tourist town of Patong and many other places the damage is hard to ignore. Even though all of the bodies and most of the debris has been cleaned up it would be impossible to miss that a major disaster had struck here. All along the waterfront there are still ruins. Frantic repair and rebuilding efforts are in progress and many businesses have reopened even in the midst of the devestation. Thai tsunami survivors Taem and Chai (many Thais go by a single monosyllabic nickname) had set up a drink stall in the foyer of a ruined building. Taem pointed out the staircase where she had run up when the tsunami hit and mentioned that three people had died including one American in that building. Still she had come back and set up shop again in the middle of the now derelict building.


Sights like that became fairly common in Patong and it wasn’t unsurprising to walk into a ruined building and find people selling t-shirts, DVD’s or even some tourists sitting down to lunch with a sea view thanks to a wall destroyed by the tsunami. Everywhere I went the Thais put out their best face to visitors and, at least on the surface, there was no trace of depression or misery about the tsunami. One restaurant even posted a banner saying “The Tsunami Can’t Beat Us! We still have the best Homemade Pizza in Town.”


Other places were in worse shape than Patong with the worst at Khao Lak and Bang Niang a 10
0 kilometers (63 miles) north of Phuket. There resorts had been practically wiped out leaving the area looking more like a war zone than a vacation region. Running along the cost for about 25 kilometers (17 miles) was devastation coming inland almost a kilometer (2/3 of a mile). The land there in many places appeared to have been cleared of both human structures and plants down to the orange colored dirt. At one spot that is rapidly becoming a tourist spot a police patrol boat had been washed ashore a kilometer. That spot also showed the sharp limit of the tsunami. On the seaward side of the boat it was cleared out dirt while on the landward side there was still jungle.

In the ruins of the resorts steel rebar sat twisted like spaghetti along with blown out brick walls, and pulverized concrete as testaments to the power of the tsunami. There also were many reminders that at one time this was a place of fun and relaxation, an elegant shoe, a bikini top, eyeglass cases and even a guidebook to Thailand. The ghosts of those who came to this place to escape the stress of their daily lives was almost palpable. To appease those ghosts scattered throughout the ruins was “ghost” money, the Taoists paper talismans meant to appease the dead, and offerings of flowers and fruit. In ironic counterpoint to all of the death and destruction the beach appeared to be the one place that still remained beautiful.


Like many natural disasters the tsunami showed a surprising capriciousness. While Khao Lak suffered the most it was geographically the farthest from the epicenter of the quake that spawned the tsunami. Patong was damaged badly and the next beach north Kamala was also badly hit yet Surin the beach after that was untouched. The chance arrangement of geography, water depth, sheltering islands and reefs all conspired to determine how bad one place was hit while another was spared. As chance would have it many of the most places coveted by tourists were hit while those mainly occupied by Thais were spared.

Tuesday, April 4

Tsunami Recovery in Thailand | Part 3: PHUKET

(Part 3 of a 12 part series)

Five weeks after the Tsunami hit, Sishir Chang went to Thailand to see how the people there were recovering and to see how those concerned could help. The following is the third installment of his experiences in the aftermath of one of the world'’s most devastating natural disasters. Originally published in the Southasian, the article is being republished here, with previously unpublished photographs, with the author's permission.

Part 3: PHUKET


The runway of the airport at Phuket sits almost at the
edge of the sea. As the plane came in low over the water to land I could almost imagine this would be the view one would see if they had surfed in on the tsunami. The flight in and the airport itself seemed relatively sparse but there still were tourists coming in and at the arrival hall I was greeted by the sight of statuesque Scandinavian women waiting to whisk Swedish package tourists off to their resort. For a moment I could almost imagine that no disaster had happened and I was there on a slow day. Then I saw a column with pictures of foreigners still missing and information about Western Consulates for those looking for loved ones. At that moment the disaster stopped being a remote menace to be nobly dealt with. Now it was intimate because I was where it happened seeing the actual human costs.


As I talked to people in Phuket I found that many could feel the weight of the tragedy. Michelle, a 20ish Canadian, told me that she had come partly out of curiosity about the tsunami and when she got to the beach she at first had been afraid to go into the water. In the water you would often get mild
ly stung by tiny jellyfish and Michelle had at times felt like these were the spirits of the dead in the water. I heard from Rosemary Breen, a relief worker from Australia that sometimes she felt the ghosts of the dead in the destroyed village she was working at.

It’s hard to reconcile thoughts like that with a place like Phuket. This is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it is sometimes achingly beautiful. The water is blue and clear, the beaches white with floury sand, there are palm trees and emerald clad hills with gaudy temples and the people are golden hued and lithe with warmth to match. Even the tsunami couldn’t reduce the natural beauty of the place. For foreigners coming from cold dark snowy lands this place is practically paradise.