Saturday, February 24

Tsunami Recovery in Thailand | Parts 11 & 12: ONGOING NEEDS & LEAVING PHUKET

(Parts 11 & 12 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 segments are the final chapters of his first experience 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 the author's permission.

Part 11 | Ongoing Needs

From everyone I talked to and seeing for myself the recovery is going very well. There are some places much more damaged than others where it will take a long time to recover but in general reconstruction is progressing well. Almost all of the bodies have been recovered but there are still around a 1,000 still missing and also around a 1,000 bodies still waiting to be identified. There hasn’t been any major health threat from the tsunami and from what I found there is plenty of food, water and medicine available.

In the worst hit areas of Khao Lak and Bang Niang the most pressing need is housing as there are still a few hundred Thais living in refugee camps in that areas. Mental health specialists are also needed to help with the children and adults who are suffering post traumatic stress. According to Sophie Konnaris at the Tsunami Volunteer Center in Khao Lak how much mental health help is needed is difficult to determine because to her knowledge no major mental health evaluation had been done. Another problem that I heard from aid workers is that Western mental health specialist might not be able to help due to language and culture differences.

Also in Khao Lak many resorts were completely destroyed it will be a long time before they can be reconstructed, if ever, and open for business. Job retraining and other economic development is needed. The villagers of Bang Niang were primarily fisherman and they would like to replace the boats they lost in the tsunami to resume fishing and would like power tools to help with fixing boats and building houses.

In Patong and Kamala the biggest need is economic recovery in the form of tourists coming back. In Kamala there is still some need for housing but reconstruction is progressing both for houses and businesses. At both the Kamala health station and the Patong hospital they said that they were well stocked on medicines but still had a need to replace equipment.

Overall the message that I heard from everyone was to come visit and enjoy Phuket. Without tourism the Thais have no chance of economic recovery.

Part 12 | Leaving Phuket

As I was leaving I watched the sun set through the windows of the Phuket airport. Like every other sunset I had seen in Phuket this one was beautiful. I had come as a concerned American looking to see where my aid money was going and also out of curiosity to see the aftermath of one of the worst disasters in human history. As I watched the sun go down I was still trying to comprehend all that I had seen and heard. I had been expecting something simple, survivors and aid workers nobly struggling amidst ruins to save life and restore dignity, but had found a far more complex situation of ad hoc aid, sex tourism, tsunami commercialization, frustration and reconstruction. All of those thoughts mingled in my mind as I watched another day end in paradise.

This concludes Shishir's experience in Thailand. Sishir has recently returned from Sri Lanka, where he observed a country still rebuilding, over a year after the same tsunami. BLYGAD is happy to announce a new series from Sishir: "Travel Notes from Sri Lanka", to be posted in 5 segments. Stay tuned.

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