tsunami update--just got back

Jan 11th, 2005, 02:57 AM
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tsunami update--just got back

Just returned late Sunday night from Maldives, Singapore and Southern Thailand. We just missed the worst of the earthquake and tidal waves by a few hours. We were in Singapore at the time. As you would expect, the news coverage in SE Asia is much more extensive than here in the United States. In Maldives alone, over 12,000 people are still homeless and approximately 84 deaths (at least 7 tourists). About half of those who died in Southern Thailand were tourists with Sweden hit the hardest. 1/3 to 1/2 of those who died were children. The tourist areas like Maldives and Southern Thailand are rapidly cleaning up. We did not see much destruction although we finally arrived in the Maldives just 1 day after the tidal waves hit, and arrived in Phuket about 10 days after. Why did we continue with our trip? We were told that these areas are very dependent on tourism for their livelihood and even those who lost family members wanted to get back to work and some semblance of normalcy. This is now their peak season and resorts running only at 20% occupancy really hurts. In the Maldives, residents apologized to US when we offered our condolences.

Some areas were hit hard, and just a short way away--it looks like nothing happened. Echoes of 9-11 with constant news coverage of worsening news. Our flight from Singapore to Maldives was cancelled on the 26th. When we finally arrived on the 27th in the Maldives in a near empty plane (after receiving assurances from the airline, resort and travel agency that they were OK and the airport open, and that they WANTED us to come--we made a mad dash for the gate), we found about 200 tourists waiting to leave, many in just bathing suits and sunburns--all the rest of their belongings had been swept out to sea. No transportation was available at that time to our resort since everyone was still focused on rescuing those who were stranded. In the capital, there was little standing water remaining, but the sea wall had separated from the main street in some places by several feet, and many people quietly waited at the docks for boats bringing bodies in. At the Phuket airport, instructions on how to find your loved ones at the immigration desks, and photocopies of those who are missing were posted. Our place north of Phuket has been completely wiped out and we still have not heard from the owners--we are praying that they are alright. We did continue with our plans to kayak on a lake inland about 2.5 hours north of Phuket--no appearance of problems along the drive or at Khao Sok. The owner of PaddleAsia, Dave Williams, (who we toured with 2 years ago in areas that were affected) did not lose any of his guides, tourists or boats--and is now heavily involved in helping some of the less known non-touristy villages and a school with several orphans in Southern Thailand. If you are interested in contributing directly to a grassroots effort to help--see paddle asia's website for more information.

Cash donations are definitely preferred. That way, donor organizations can buy food, water, and other supplies from locals and help support the local economy. Also, much of what has been donated is just junk--as much as 1/3 or more of items donated to date has had to be thrown out (e.g., high heel shoes?!).

According to the Singapore newspaper, the volunteers that are needed most now are medical personnel to help those who are sick and injuried, and rescue divers to retrieve bodies. They quite clearly state that you should be affiliated with an organization--they don't want folks just showing up since you will need food, water, immunizations (perhaps malaria prophylaxis), and a place to stay--and they need to organize efforts.

If you currently have plans to visit SE Asia and are now thinking of canceling or postponing your plans--please rethink this decision. They need your dollars and to see that life continues. One mother who just lost her infant son, wanted to get back to work 2 days after the tsunami. Many families are entirely dependent on tourism. In Maldives it is 3/4 of their income!

If you always wanted to go to SE Asia, we expect that there will be discounts offered in the near future to get travelers to return. I personally would not want to stay in Khao Lak, Phi Phi island, parts of Phuket or other areas which were harder hit where they are still retrieving bodies, but, much of the Maldives, Southern Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia etc. were not affected or have already recovered. And, Singapore wasn't affected at all. The state department did not place a travel advisory for Maldives and other travel advisories have been lifted.

And, those who are traveling, make sure that you get travel insurance that covers "acts of God."

Finally, the latest news in Singapore (now the coordinating center for relief efforts) on Sunday was that people are afraid of buying and eating fish and other seafood from these areas. In Southern Thailand fisherman are having to sell their fish for 1/10th of what they sold them a little over 2 weeks ago--and people are still not buying the seafood. Concerns are contamination (some septic systems were wiped out by the tidal waves), and what the bottom feeders are eating. But, Malaysia has tested seafood and not found contamination. Blanket proscriptions on seafood from "tsunami-affected areas" are often too broad. Tourism and fisheries are the biggest industries in many of these areas. So, do ask careful questions if this is an important factor in your decisions regarding your seafood.
lacontessa is offline  
Jan 11th, 2005, 08:10 AM
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Thank you for this excellent post.
galiano is offline  
Jan 11th, 2005, 09:08 AM
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yes, thank you.
jvrab12 is offline  
Jan 11th, 2005, 09:28 AM
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thanks for that report...do you plan a full report? if not, how did you find the maldives in gerneral...did you find the bargain you were looking for..??

rhkkmk is offline  
Jan 11th, 2005, 09:32 AM
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Thanks so much for your report.
Kathie is online now  
Jan 11th, 2005, 10:30 AM
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Thanks so much for posting..
Thyra is offline  
Jan 11th, 2005, 10:53 AM
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I posted the following on the Maldives section of this forum:

Most of the resorts in the Maldives are still OK. Ellaidhoo was a very good choice for us. No damage. Excellent house reef (great large fish, turtle, black tipped shark, tons of moray eels etc. but mostly bleached coral) off the shore, decent food, nice service, most affordable choice for snorkelers. We talked to another tourist from Japan who has visited Maldives 30 times and he said that we choose the right resort for price and that the house reef was one of the best in Maldives. Right now the rack rate is $200 per night for 2 people (peak season) including 3 buffet meals and accomodations. Less later in January and other times. Crown travel can book it for $185 per night. You can still get a reservation since folks are canceling although the US state department has not issued a travel advisory.

From Nizam Island Tours is the following update on Maldives resorts:
Of the country's 87 luxury resort islands, only 19 have had to shut down for repairs, whereas out of these 19, 6 have been destroyed (among them Medhufushi). However, due to the publicity of the affected areas, even those islands which have been left untouched are negatively affected.

Due to the governments "one island, one resort" policy, the individual resorts are self sustaining, meaning they have their own electricity, waste water recycling, water making facilities and are not dependent on a infrastructure grid such as beaches on a mainland which are just "hooking" into the provided infrastructure.Therefore the infrastructure damage is limited to the directly affected islands, and if one island's electricity is out of order, it will not affect the other islands power supply because this infrastructure is not based on a grid system.

The following resorts are fully operational:
Banyan Tree Maldives
Ellaidhoo (we just returned from here--see earlier posting)
Fullmoon Maldives
Kurumba Maldives
Lily Beach
One&Only Kanuhura
Palm Beach
Paradise Island
Royal Island
Summer Island
Sun Island
Taj Coral
Vadoo Island Resort
Velidhu Island Resort

lacontessa is offline  
Jan 14th, 2005, 03:27 AM
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ttt for those interested in donations
lacontessa is offline  
Jan 16th, 2005, 04:31 PM
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Thanks for your great report. I am considering doing the Khao Sok trip, how did you like it? Did you stay in the rafts? Any more information you can provide me will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
joh is offline  
Jan 17th, 2005, 02:34 AM
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My husband LOVED the Khao Sok portion of our trip (me, I like a little more comfort . This was our second trip with Paddle Asia--first was a week in Turatao a couple of years ago. This time we stayed in the floating bamboo park bungalows. They look like they are ready to fall down and have gaps in the walkways but are fine if you can camp out for a few days (e.g, cold showers, thin mattresses). The plus is that you are staying IN the park. Good Thai food. You need to pack a towel, and one of those handless headlamps. Binoculars are a must. I also used my ear plugs since because of the difference in time, we went to bed early and the first night there were birthday party and motorboat sounds. Otherwise very quiet except for sounds of nature (e.g, gibbons calling in the a.m.). If you get seasick easily, look into the prescription patch behind the ear. We saw dusky langurs, gibbons and pigtailed macques. Also experienced over 20 greater hornbills fly overhead at dusk. Beautiful dawn and sunset photos. Amazingly very few mosquitoes. Huge lake. The photos on PaddleAsia's website are real helpful to get a feel for the place. Dave is sending us the list of birds we saw which I can also post.
lacontessa is offline  
Jan 17th, 2005, 06:00 AM
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Thank you very much for your information
joh is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2005, 02:07 AM
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I just received this update from Golden Buddha in Southern Thailand. We had planned to visit there a few weeks ago when the tsunami hit. They plan to reopen in December of 2005, but, much has been damaged and friends lost. Please note that this update continues to verify what I posted earlier--that cash is needed, as well as better coordination of aid--not donations of clothes as another poster on this forum was pushing for.

lacontessa is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2005, 02:08 AM
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Message from Bodhi:

As the days turn in to weeks, and the gulf of time that separates us from the tsunami continues to grow, things seem to be getting back to normal. It is easy to get used to the tent camps and hastily built temporary housing, the ever-present officials and dignitaries parading around the devastated villages (posing for a quick photo with the most distraught looking local they can find), the ridiculous oversupply of donated clothes and plastic water bottles. After a few days, all of this seems to just be just about average. But if you scratch the surface, you can see the anguish and uncertainty that fills the days of those who survived the tsunami. You can see that the dignity of these people is being threatened by an onslaught of well meaning but misdirected aid. You can see that there are basics, like fruit, vegetables, and meat that people cannot afford. You can see that there are stories to be told and tears to be cried. A friend of mine in Hat Praphat calmly described how her 2 year-old child was torn from her arms by the torrent, never to be seen again. In the end, it will be a community of caring friends and concerned neighbors that will heal these wounds, not the international or governmental aid efforts. So, to me, the most important question is how to enable the re-forging of community, how to make sure that people feel good about where they live and what they do.

From this perspective, there is still much work to be done, and because of our connections and friendships in these communities, we have been able to make a difference - particularly with the short-term labor and fresh food delivery programs. As I was helping the villagers of Had Sai Kaew to remove a long-tail boat from the mangroves, their laughter and teamwork was something I had not experienced since before the tsunami. We are also able to respond quickly to particular needs in various villages, such as the water shortage in Tung Dap, or the food crisis in the remote Moken village beyond the Surins.

Below is a more detailed update of what we are doing, and below that are two relevant articles from Bangkok newspapers. I hope that you can also take a moment to feel good about being involved in the tsunami relief effort, the people here often express their gratitude that people half way around the world have made an effort on their behalf.


Update 7 from North Andaman Tsunami Relief (NATR)
23rd January 2004

Today, Sunday, marks four weeks since the tsunami ravaged the North Andaman islands and coastline. So much has been accomplished in that time, through efforts of government, aid organisations and the communities themselves, but it will still be a long time before people's lives return to any level of normalcy. The villagers from Bak Jok are still in a tented camp at the Kuraburi school; the community of Tung Dap has just moved into their temporary housing built by the Thai army, but are now without a clean supply of water; and the people of Baan Talae Nok are watching their new permanent houses being constructed.

NATR continues to play an active role in providing for the needs as yet unmet by other agencies. The short term labour project for Hat Praphat and Had Sai Kaew has been particularly successful. We had anticipated the involvement of twenty villagers, forty showed up the first day, and by the third day of the project, sixty people had come to work! They have been pulling their boats out of the mangroves in the channel between the villages and clearing up debris. For a few hours each day, the community is able to focus on the present and shape their future, rather than sinking under the enormity of what they have lost.

The handicrafts project also started this week, with the purchase and delivery of pandanus leaves for weaving. Dye is soon to arrive from Bangkok so that the women can begin to make baskets and mats again, for sale. Next week, we will also deliver pandanus to the Moken (sea gypsy) community on the Surin Islands. This community has achieved a degree of fame within Thailand as their oral tradition includes an understanding of tsunamis (from a previous occurrence in 1907) and they were able to save all but one of the village members as well as a number of tourists. They have built 56 houses in 10 days and have started fishing again. NATR sent over mosquito nets with a group who had come to Kuraburi for a new boat and has also requested their help in delivering food and clothing to other sea gypsy communities in the region that are not receiving aid due to inefficiencies.

In order to assess the effectiveness of NATR's projects, we have been running on-going evaluations. Instrumental in this has been Duk, a resident of Bak Jok (one of the worst affected villages) and a past employee of Golden Buddha Beach. He has been interviewing village members to find out their views on current projects, and assessing whether we can assist with their unmet needs. NATR would like to thank him for volunteering his time so selflessly and the great contribution he has made to the success of the projects.

This Update is being compiled from NATR's new office in Kuraburi. It is located next to the internet caf? and has already become a hub of activity. Paula has arrived to focus on ecotourism, and in the next few days, we are expecting a group of eight more volunteers to join us as project coordinators, clerical staff and for some serious manual labour! These include Rachel, Bonnie, Emma, Amanda and Nicole. Our call for Thai translators and focus group facilitators has been answered and we look forward to welcoming Pa and Bom to the office tomorrow.

We have now finalised the NATR Operational Plan (including budget), Village Assessment Report and more detailed Project outlines. As an interested donor, if you would like to be sent any of these, please contact us at [email protected]

Currently, we are looking for a donor to fund a large supply of equipment to the sea gypsy village on the Surin Islands. If you know anyone who would be interested in supporting this project area, kindly get in touch!



The Nation
'Tsunami of Mercy' swamps villagers

Civil groups in Thailand's six tsunami-ravaged provinces called on the government to adopt more community-oriented policies for assisting victims.

Participants made the demand during the first meeting of tsunami victims and groups representing afflicted areas in Phang Nga town. The meeting was organised by a network of civil groups from and near Bangkok and joined by local activists and academics from Mahidol and Prince of Songkhla universities.

"Assistance is being distributed in too centralised a manner and handled rather inefficiently by government agencies in a top-down approach without asking what people on the ground actually want," Professor Anuchart Puangsamlee from Mahidol University said. "The locals are now getting hit by a second tidal wave which we might call the "Tsunami of Mercy".

Although the outpouring of help is flooding the tsunami-afflicted areas, miles of bureaucratic red tape means that only a fraction of the more than 50,000 badly affected locals are able to enjoy the real benefits of assistance, local participants said. "Donated items are piling up at Provincial Hall while officials are busying themselves filling in forms and whatnot," a delegate from Satun province said, "Goverment officials must urgently revise their approach," said another delegate, from Phuket. "The focus of aid should be villagers, not high-ranking people who are captialising on the situation."

Sombat Boonngarm-anon, a representative of the Chiang Rai-based Krajor Kgao group, which assists in relief activities in Khao Lak, conceded that the surplus of assistance did cause some headaches to his staff. "One day we had 800 earthen stoves piling up in front of our centre almost blocking the entire street," he explained. "We are thankful for all donations, but often supplies do not respond to actual needs.."

Participants recommended that residents in each affected province pull together and work out what kind of help they need, when and how, and petition the government with concrete proposals.

Bangkok Post
How can we best help tsunami victims?

The tsunami disaster has triggered a massive outpouring of public generosity to help the victims. So why is there still so much discontent on the ground?

Is the vexation caused by a lack of coordination in providing help, aggravated by an obsession with red-tape and top-down authority? Or is it because we have forgotten that kindness can be misguided if we impose our good intentions on the recipients without heeding their needs?

As donated items pile up at provincial centres and housing construction sprouts up in tsunami-hit areas, the complaints are getting louder that many victims are not receiving help and the newly-built houses will probably be abandoned because they do not suit the villagers' way of life.

In some places, villagers cannot go to receive donated items at official centres because they must guard what is left of their battered property. In other villages, residents reportedly must travel a long distance each day just to receive a kilogramme of rice because that is the official ration per family per day and no official dares break the rules.

Many small-scale fishermen along the Andaman coast also resent the state's focus on the tourism sector. They want ready help to repair their boats and funds to buy fishing gears so they can return to the sea and get back on their feet. But the government is too busy wooing back the tourist dollars.

Apart from debt, housing is another major anxiety. Some villagers want to move to safer ground. Others want to stay right where they are. Many risk being evicted from their villages because they live on public land and the government does not want them there. And far too many still cannot get government assistance because their legal documents were lost to the killer waves.

At the lowest rung of the victims are the migrant workers from Burma. They dare not eve voice their needs for fear of being arrested and deported. Many are still seeking shelter and hiding in the mountains.

The tsunamis took the physical possessions of villagers and have also made the survivors feel like they have lost control over their lives. Thus the challenge is not only to meet their different needs but to do so in such a way as to help the restore their confidence and dignity. Top down and uniform policies cannot do this.

Fortunately, some non-governmental organisations who have long been working with the villagers have acted quickly to fill the gap. An example is a fund set up to help small-scale fishermen repair or build new boats and buy fishing equipment.

Instead of being passive recipients, fishermen's committees will collectively manage the financial aid to ensure transparency and the fair and flexible distribution of short- and long-term help.

It's good to be kind. But it is better if we kindly listen to the recipients' needs, respect their concerns and give them room to make their own choices.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.
[email protected]

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