Projects in Tsunami Affected Areas, Andaman Coast, Thailand
Locations: Ko Muk Island - Trang Province, Tab Tawan - Phang-gna Province, Ko Lao Island - Ranong Province, Khuraburi - Phang-gna Province, Thailand.
Date: 22nd January 2007 - 24th January 2007.
We are so used to things going wrong now that it has long since ceased to be a surprise. So when the engine wouldn’t start on Monday morning it was just a matter of course. Richard got a taxi to Trang airport while I tinkered with the engine before coming to the conclusion that all it needed was a good dose of start pilot and sure enough it soon spluttered back into action after an application. But it didn’t end there. Turning the car around to head out of the city to go to the pier, I got forced down some one way streets and into a warren of smaller ones so Richard got left behind. I was assured that he’d get a lift with the ActionAid staff in their van. Unfortunately not, so the nightmare of trying to get to the pier began for Richard. As it turned out, there was no need to rush because the boat was having trouble too so we had to wait for a few hours for it to show up. Eventually though, we arrived on Ko Muk island. This island was heavily affected by the December 2004 Tsunami which destroyed all its buildings and infrastructure. The huge amount of work undertaken by charitable organisations and NGOs since then has gone a long way towards rectifying things. Boats have been repaired and fishing equipment donated and housing and public buildings have been reconstructed. ActionAid continues to work in the area through partner organisations Save Andaman Network (SAN) and Sustainable Development Foundation (SDF) to help ensure long-term rehabilitation.
Arriving on Ko Muk we were struck by the beauty of the location. An upmarket bungalow resort was located on the beach and several tourists were strolling along the beach. Further along the island though, the local people are living in very small, basic structures and are heavily reliant on the fishing trade.
One of the projects on the island is Disaster Management and Risk Education. This project has local teachers working on creating a detailed curriculum and lesson plans on disaster awareness. The completed curriculum will be presented to the government as a basis for the subject to be introduced into schools at a national level so that the risk of another natural disaster causing such huge loss of life is mitigated.
While on the island we met with one of the women’s groups set up by ActionAid to help develop long-term sustainable livelihoods. The groups now operate small businesses in a variety of areas including coconuts, chili paste and deserts. These groups have been created to help diversify the trades that the community work in and reduced their dependence on the fishing trade which was severely damaged by the Tsunami and has resulted in lower fish yields throughout the region.
After staying overnight on the island, we had a long drive to Tab Tawan the next day where we visited a project run by Foundation for Children. Aside from the obvious physical destruction caused by the Tsunami, many people especially children suffered psychological trauma. The project has been running for 2 years and mainly focused on afterschool activities for children. The focus was on team building and helping children to come to terms with the disaster. Activities undertaken at the FFC centre included sports, painting, fishing, gardening, additional education etc. The project has been a success with around 70 children attending activities and has led to the children having a better social community. From here, we had another few hours drive north to Ranong where we stayed the night.
On Wednesday morning we had a short trip to the pier to take a boat to Lao Island. The pier was crammed with fishermen, many of them Burmese migrants who operate here illegally rather than have nearly all their profit taken by the Burmese military regime. The 20 minute boat trip deposited us on Lao Island where there is a sizable Moken community. Commonly known as Sea Gypsys, the Moken are a diverse ethnic group from either Burmese or Thai and are stateless people - not having citizenship or citizens rights in any country. They commonly spend alot of time at sea but have villages on many islands around the Andaman coast. Many of these villages and their fishing boats were destroyed by the Tsunami. While on the island we visited the Moken village and the school which now educates both Moken and Thai children on the island.
ActionAid and Foundation for Children have been working with the Moken on Lao island for over 2 years and have achieved many successes. Emergency help in the form of drinking water and medical aid to treat malaria and cholera outbreaks were provided initially along with housing and boat repair. The village now has an electricity generator provided by ActionAid. As in other areas, local groups have been set up to receive education and build capacity in various trades. The Moken have been issued with identity cards that name them as Moken so they no longer fear being arrested as suspected Burmese illegal workers when visiting the main land. This card can also be used to recieve medical treatment from Thai hospitals. Moken children are now being educated in the same school as the Thai children who live on the island and the relationship between the two groups has improved.
However, there is still progress to be made. The living conditions of the Moken on the island are not very good and they are still reluctant to integrate into Thai society. Their lack of citizenship allows them to be exploited by the people who own the land that their villages are built on. While other NGOs have been and gone (one leaving an unused christian church in the village) ActionAid continue to operate in the area to help with long-term issues.
After departing from Lao island, we made our way to Bann Hinlard in Khuarburi where we visited a community of Burmese migrant workers. ActionAid has been working with partner organisation Thai Action Committe for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) to set up community centres to encourage learning, skills development and to educate migrant workers on their human rights. The problems faced by Burmese migrants are complex and will take a long time to overcome. Issues surrounding work permits, legal status, land ownership and language difficulties can only be resolved through long-term planning. ActionAid is working in the communities to help with day to day issues concerning livelihood and education while simultaneously campaigning for change in both Thai and Burmese government policies to help ensure that the human rights of Burmese migrant workers are not abused.
The projects that we saw on the Andaman coast are only a small sample of a large and numerous range of projects that ActionAid is involved in. Other issues are prominent in the portfolio, especially land rights and womens rights. ActionAid is working both at on the ground and through political channels to attempt to improve the living conditions of poor and marginalised groups of people in Thailand and to ensure that they can claim their rights. As with all the other ActionAid projects that we have visited in various countries, we have been impressed by the commitment and dedication shown by the staff of ActionAid Thailand. We would like to extend our gratitude to the following people who accompanied us on our visit and were exceptional hosts.
- Rungtip Imrungruang: Tsunami Program consultant
- Kulachart Daengdej: Tsunami Policy Officer
- Piyanut Kotsan: Impact Assessment
For more information:
ActionAid Thailand http://www.actionaid.org/thailand/
Save Andaman Network http://www.saape.org.np/news_events/post_tsunami/Presentation6-Thailand.pdf
Sustainable Development Foundation http://www.sdfthai.org/
Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) http://www.tacdb.org/en/
Foundation for Children http://www.ffc.or.th/htmleng/engpage1/page.htm